Without standout quarterback McKenzie Milton, No. 10 Central Florida turned to other options and they responded with a 37-10 victory against East Carolina on Saturday night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at Greenville, N.C.
Quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. ran for a game-high 120 yards and a score and added 69 yards through the air in his first start.
The Knights, up 23-10 with little more than 10 minutes to play, scored a pair of touchdowns longer than 70 yards — one on a turnover — to seal the outcome.
A team spokesman referenced a game-time decision by coach Josh Heupel for leaving Milton on the sideline. Milton, who ranked seventh nationally with 333.5 total yards per game entering the weekend, was in uniform and went through pregame warm-ups.
The Knights (7-0, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) pushed their nation’s-best winning streak to 20 games, this result much easier than the one-point escape a week earlier at Memphis.
East Carolina (2-5, 0-4) has lost six straight matchups against Top 25 opponents.
Mack was 12-for-20 passing. He rushed 22 times.
After the teams combined for three field goals, Central Florida held a 6-3 lead 20 minutes into the game. The Knights scored on a second-quarter gadget play when third-string quarterback Quadry Jones threw a 42-yard pass to Adrian Killins Jr. with 8:33 left in the second quarter.
Mack followed with a 7-yard touchdown run with 4:50 left before halftime as the Knights racked up 20 points in barely more than a seven-minute span.
After building the 20-3 halftime lead, the Knights went more than 17 minutes without scoring. Matthew Wright’s 46-yard field goal with 2:49 left in the third quarter made it 23-10.
East Carolina lost the ball on a fumble late in the third quarter and its first possession of the fourth quarterback began at its 1-yard line.
But the Pirates marched all the way to the Central Florida 1 on that drive before quarterback Holton Ahlers fumbled and Nate Evans returned it 94 yards for a touchdown.
Less than four minutes later, Greg McCrae ran 74 yards for a touchdown. That gave him 99 yards on five carries.
Ahlers, a freshman and a hometown product, was making his much-anticipated first collegiate start. He finished 29 for 53 for 406 yards.
He threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Trevon Brown in the third quarter.
Ahlers threw for 86 yards in the first quarter, but his production tailed off until midway through the third quarter.
East Carolina struck first on Jake Verity’s 34-yard field goal, the only points in the first quarter.
Field goals from 39 and 41 yards by Wright sent the Knights to a 6-3 lead in the second quarter.
—Field Level Media