It took him a full five years to play in a bowl game, but East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers made the most of his first appearance and lived to the end as a pirate. Ahlers led Birmingham to a 53-29 victory over ECU, where he was named MVP of the bowl.
Ahlers played five full seasons at ECU thanks to a one-year extension to his eligibility for the 2020 COVID season.
It’s hard to imagine anyone making better use of their time in college and contributing to the improvement of a program so desperately in need of improvement.
This was ECU’s first bowl appearance since losing to Florida 28-20 in the 2014 Birmingham Bowl. An asterisk must be added to this statement because the Pirates qualified for the 2021 Military Bowl, but the game was canceled after Boston College withdrew due to COVID issues.
Either way, Ahlers were dynamic in their farewell game with the ECU.
He completed 26 of 38 passes for 300 yards, 5 touchdowns and no interceptions. Ahlers also rushed for 48 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Additionally, he caught his one pass for his 14 yards.
Not only that, but he showed his versatility by leading a band.
To show just how much Ahlers meant to the program, we have to look at the circumstances when he arrived. The last winning season was his aforementioned 2014 when the Pirates went 8-5 for him. In his next three years, the Pirates saw Scotty sack his Montgomery after he started 3-8 in a season that saw him go 11-25 and finish 3-9. .
Ahlers joined as a freshman in 2018 and didn’t immediately join as a starter, and the Pirates didn’t turn things around right away.
Ahlers went 3-9 in his first year at Montgomery, while Mike Houston went 3-9 and 4-8 in his first two years.
Then came last year’s 7-5 bowl qualification season, which ended 8-5 this year.
All along, it was Ahlers who was the catalyst for improving the program. Ahlers were a local product. ECU is located in Greenville, NC. He attended his DH Conley High School in Greenville. There were no more matches.
As a true freshman, he appeared in 10 games and started 5 games in 2018. He made his college debut in the second game of the season, his 41-19 win over North Carolina. Reed Herring played the majority at quarterback, but Ahlers threw 36 yards and two points on eight carries. (He also passed 0-1).
The Pirates had some wild games this year. ECU was involved in six games that were decided by three points or less, going 3-3 in those contests. (He may have been the wildest in overtime, 47-45, against Memphis, where Ahlers threw for 304 yards and his TD and scored one, but the real star was Keaton Mitchell. Keaton Mitchell 149 yards and he scored 3).
Overall, Ahlers finished with a roll, throwing 12 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in their final seven games.
At 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 230 pounds, Ahlers plays a position with a fullback mentality. Lefty Ahlers has 13,927 all-time passing yards and 15,387 total yards, setting both school and American Athletic his conference records. He set his AAC record for touchdowns and threw 97 scores, plus he rushed for 25.
These were the video game numbers he put up, and the ECU’s elevated program. It was the first back-to-back winning season since 2012-his 2014, where ECU had three consecutive over. 500 campaigns.
It will be interesting to see if Ahlers gets a chance to play in the NFL. His hard play, leadership, and athleticism make sure he gets an invite to NFL camp, even if he’s undrafted. He needs a little refinement in his passing game, but he has all the tools to be guided by his inner urges and become his future NFL contender.
Regardless of what he accomplishes in the future, Ahlers had a memorable college life. It was made all the more special by the fact that it was accomplished in his own backyard.