TAMPA, Fla. -- East Carolina's bid to wrap up an extended weather-related Florida stay with a victory came up just short.
Jordan Cronkrite had the go-ahead 80-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter and South Florida beat Hurricane Florence-impacted East Carolina 20-13 in the American Athletic Conference opener for both teams on Saturday night.
East Carolina relocated to Orlando, Florida by bus Sept 12th as the storm approached the North and South Carolina coastlines. The Pirates didn't travel to Blacksburg, Virginia for a scheduled game Sept. 15th at No. 13 Virginia Tech due to safety concerns and potentially hazardous travel conditions before and after that game.
"We just stayed focused on the game," East Carolina quarterback Reid Herring said. "It will be good to see what our families are doing back home. Obviously we wanted to come away with the win for them. We're just hoping that everybody's OK back home."
Cronkrite's run put USF up 20-13 with 10:13 left. He finished with 129 yards on 15 carries.
"I was just trying to give my team a lift." Cronkrite said. "I really had the easy job. All I did was run straight. The offensive line did a great job making a seam for me."
The Bulls had been limited to 31 yards rushing entering the fourth quarter.
"Great job by ECU," Cronkrite said. "They played a hard-fought game. We just got the `W."
Blake Barnett went 12 for 20 for 181 yards and one touchdown for USF (4-0). He also ran for a 2-yard score.
"It wasn't pretty," USF coach Charlie Strong said. "It's good that you get the win. The offense didn't play very well. We weren't ready to play."
South Florida, which entered averaging 522.3 yards, was held to 296. The Bulls did extend their streak of scoring 20 or more points to 34 consecutive games, the longest active run in the nation.
ECU (1-2) used two quarterbacks. Herring completed 21 of 48 passes for 253 yards and Holton Ahlers picked up 48 yards on 12 rushes while completing 1 of 2 passes for 3 yards.
"We wanted to make it a low-scoring game," ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said. "We wanted to get into the fourth quarter as a one-score game and really, really grind it out."
Barnett hooked up with Darnell Salomon for a 66-yard TD pass and a 13-7 lead early in the second.
Jake Verity had a 28-yard field to make it 13-10 as the first half ended. The kick came two plays after Herring walked gingerly off the field following a 5-yard to run to the 5 with 15 seconds left.
Herring retuned for the Pirates initial second-half possession.
After forcing a turnover, ECU pulled to 13-all on a 24-yard field goal by Verity early in the third quarter.
Ahlers scored on a two-yard run as East Carolina opened the game with a nine-play, 82-yard drive.
USF got within 7-6 on Barnett's two-yard dash late in the first. The extra-point try was blocked.
East Carolina: The Pirates kept it close through the third quarter using a ball control offense that outgained USF 305-199. ECU had the ball for more than 29 minutes, running 69 plays compared to the Bulls' 40, going into the fourth quarter.
South Florida: The Bulls remained, along with No. 16 Central Florida (3-0) and Cincinnati (4-0), among the only undefeated teams in the AAC. All three are in the East Division. The Bulls play at Cincinnati, which rallied from a 24-7 halftime deficit Saturday to beat Ohio 34-30, on Nov. 10th
Barnett has eight touchdown passes and ran for four more this season. . Solomon has caught a TD pass in three consecutive games. . It was the Bulls 150th win, coming in their 22nd season. . Verity has made all of his seven field-goal attempts this season.
East Carolina: Closes out its non-conference slate Saturday at home against Old Dominion (1-3), which upset Virginia Tech 49-35 Saturday.
South Florida: Plays its last non-conference game after an off week Oct. 6th at UMass (2-3).
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