With one and a half minutes gone by in the fourth quarter Monday, underdog Ohio had just taken its first lead. The favorites would do the remainder of the scoring. Vintavious Cooper rushed for a Beef O’Brady’s Bowl-record 198 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns, catapulting East Carolina to a 37-20 victory at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Cooper scored from 31 yards to put East Carolina up for good at 24-20. After an Ohio punt, Cam Worthy caught a lateral from Shane Carden and tossed it back to Carden for a 14-yard touchdown and a 31-20 advantage. Tyler Tettleton threw two of his three interceptions after that, the last of which was followed by Cooper’s 22-yard scoring burst that put the game out of reach.
East Carolina (10-3) accomplished two important things with the come-from-behind win. The Pirates not only snapped a four-game bowl losing streak, winning a postseason game for the first time since defeating Boise State in the 2007 Hawaii Bowl, but finished its first 10-win season since 1991.
Joseph Yazdani had kicked consecutive field goals - one a 29-yarder to cap Ohio’s second possession of the second half and the other from 28 yards that put the Bobcats up 20-17 with 13:33 left in the game. Yazdani followed the go-ahead kick with a nice onside kick that was recovered by Ohio. The MAC school, which had a two-game winning streak in bowls snapped and finished 7-6, couldn’t capitalize as Yazdani missed from 45 yards. Aided by a pair of 15-yard penalties on Ohio, Cooper scooted 31 yards for a touchdown that put the Pirates up four with 9:45 left.
It was East Carolina’s first points since a field goal with one minute to play in the second quarter.
Tettleton had a pair of completions, to Donte Foster for 39 yards and to Landon Smith for 23 that helped get Ohio into field goal range. Yazdani nailed a 28-yarder that put the MAC school up for the first time at 20-17 with 13:33 remaining in the game.
Ohio, which trailed 14-0 in the opening quarter, pulled even for the second time at 17-17 with a third quarter drive that resulted in a field goal.
The Bobcats got a huge 14-yard completion from Tettleton to Donte Foster on fourth-and-one, but gained just one yard on three plays from the East Carolina 13. Yazdani nailed a 29-yard field goal that evened things up with 6:42 left in the third.
East Carolina used a turnover to grab the first lead of the day. Michael Dobson made a diving interception of a Tettleton pass, setting up the Pirates with excellent field position.
On the ensuing drive, Cooper had a 34-yard run to the Ohio 5 and Carden completed all four pass attempts, including a five-yard touchdown toss on a fade route to Worthy.
Cooper’s first run put him over 1,000 yards for the season, making the senior from Homerville, Georgia just the third back in the program’s history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.
Carden got to work again late in the first and the Pirates went up by two touchdowns. The junior had a 25-yard completion with Breon Allen to the Ohio 27, and four plays later, Allen scampered in from two yards out for a 14-0 lead.
In between, Ohio’s defense came up with a big play as freshman Tarell Basham, who came into the game with six and a half sacks, picked up another as Carden was dropped at the 25 for a six-yard loss to set up a third-and-long. Carden rushed for 10 yards on to the Ohio 15, but the Pirates were stopped on a fourth-and-short attempt.
Ohio got on the scoreboard for the first time early in the second on Tettleton’s 17-yard hook up with Daz’Mond Patterson, who scored un-touched to make it a 14-7 game.
Backup quarterback Derrius Vick, who had just 18 completions all season coming into the game, connected with a wide open Foster on an 80-yard touchdown pass midway through the second that tied the game at 14-14.
After its second failed fourth down attempt of the opening half, East Carolina had a fourth-and-five at the 24 late in the second quarter, but let Warren Harvey boot a 41-yard field goal that sent the Pirates into the halftime locker room up 17-14.