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Holton Ahlers guides ECU past Coastal Carolina in Birmingham Bowl

Dec 27, 2022; Birmingham, Alabama, USA; East Carolina Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers (12) runs the ball against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers in the 2022 Birmingham Bowl at Protective Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Holton Ahlers threw five touchdown passes and ran for a score as the East Carolina quarterback closed his college career in a 53-29 victory against Coastal Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala.

Isaiah Winstead caught two touchdown passes and C.J. Johnson racked up 83 receiving yards and a touchdown reception to help the Pirates (8-5) register their first bowl win in nine years. Keaton Mitchell rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.

Quarterback Grayson McCall, who announced Monday that he is leaving the Chanticleers via the transfer portal, had a solid outing before an injury on a second-quarter touchdown run cut short his final outing in a Coastal Carolina uniform.

East Carolina was in its first bowl game since January 2015 after last year’s scheduled Military Bowl encounter with Boston College was nixed because of COVID-19 issues involving the Eagles.

Alhers, who also tossed a two-point conversion pass for the game’s final points, completed 26 of 38 throws for 300 yards.

Coastal Carolina played under interim coach Chad Staggs after coach Jamey Chadwell departed to take the coaching opening at Liberty. The Chanticleers (9-4) were denied a third consecutive season with double-digit wins.

McCall completed 10 of 12 passes for 67 yards before Jarrett Guest was summoned. Guest was 6-for-11 for 136 yards and a score.

East Carolina began to take control after going ahead in the second quarter. Following a Coastal Carolina fumble on the first snap of the second half, the Pirates drove 27 yards and Ahlers hooked up with Jaylen Johnson on a 2-yard touchdown play for a 31-14 lead.

The Chanticleers bounced back on Guest’s 47-yard TD pass to Tyler Roberts.

Another Coastal Carolina fumble came before Ahlers’ fourth-down 1-yard touchdown run that allowed the Pirates to stretch their lead to 38-21.

Gerard Stringer forced two of the three second-half fumbles by Coastal Carolina.

The Pirates went up 10-0 in the first quarter and held a 24-14 halftime lead.

East Carolina used more than four minutes to go 70 yards in 10 plays on the game’s opening possession, settling for Andrew Conrad’s 28-yard field goal.

Ahlers then threw 27 yards to Winstead for the game’s first touchdown, capping a five-play, 77-yard possession.

Coastal Carolina got on the board on the second play of the second quarter on Reese White’s 1-yard run. McCall’s 9-yard run on the Chanticleers’ next possession put Coastal Carolina on top.

An Ahlers-to-Winstead play of 11 yards allowed East Carolina to regain the lead at 17-14 in the second quarter.

On their next possession, the Pirates went 64 yards in seven plays with Keaton Mitchell scoring on a 1-yard run 1:44 before halftime.

–Field Level Media