Football PHOTO

Redshirt freshman kicker Owen Daffer is hoisted up by his team after hitting the game-winning field goal at Navy.

East Carolina University football (7-4-0, 5-2-0 American Athletic Conference) defeated the United States Naval Academy (2-8-0, 2-5-0 AAC) 38-35, which gave the team its first four-game win streak since joining the American Athletic Conference.

The game was played at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, on Nov. 20 and kickoff was at 3:30 p.m. The Pirates won the coin toss to open the game and elected to receive the ball to open the first half.

With the first opportunity on offense, freshman running back Keaton Mitchell took three carries for 49 yards and the first score of the game, which gave the Pirates a quick seven-point lead three minutes into the game. 

The Midshipmen responded with a drive that started on a kickoff fumble. Navy was able to recover the ball and set up for its first offensive possession. Navy relied on its rushing ability throughout the game, starting with the first drive. Navy’s drive ran eight times and passed twice, resulting in a four-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Tai Lavatai to senior wide receiver Mychael Cooper.

ECU received the ball back after the score was tied up. The Pirate offense marched down the field with back-to-back third down plays. To cap off the drive, junior quarterback Holton Ahlers passed an open 40-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Tyler Snead. Redshirt freshman placekicker Owen Daffer converted his second extra point of the game.

The first play of Navy’s next drive saw another fumble recovered by the Midshipmen. Navy was able to march downfield on the ground led by unanswered blocking from the offensive line. Navy rushed 10 consecutive times to bring the offensive unit down to ECU’s end zone where the first pass of the drive resulted in a touchdown. The Navy touchdown brought the score to 14-14 with five minutes left in the second quarter. 

The fifth drive of the game was the first that did not finish with a touchdown. Ahlers kept the drive alive by breaking a sack and converting a shovel pass to Mitchell for a first down, putting the Pirates in field goal territory. The drive began to stall, which left ECU facing a fourth and two. Freshman running back Rahjai Harris ran for the first down. After facing a second fourth down, the Pirates settled for the first field goal of the game.

Navy continued its running attack with six rushing plays, enabling senior fullback Isaac Ruoss to convert a rushing touchdown for the Midshipmen. The score was the first time Navy held the lead in the game at 21-17.

However, the lead did not last long. The Pirates took the rest of the first half game clock to march down the field to Navy’s end zone, aided by a gain of 54 yards on a pass from Ahlers to sophomore wide receiver C.J. Johnson. With 17 seconds left in the first half, Ahlers threw a touchdown pass to junior tight end Ryan Jones on fourth down to give the Pirates a 24-21 lead into the half. 

Navy began on offense to start the second half. The drive for the Midshipmen was the first of the game that did not result in points as they punted on fourth down. The Pirates responded by marching down the field to the Navy two-yard line, where they gambled on their own fourth down play that did not score, turning the ball over on downs. The two teams went back-to-back punting the football to finish out the third quarter.

After the third quarter scoring drought, Navy struck back first. The first play of the Midshipmen’s first drive resulted in a 90-yard touchdown run from senior running back Carlinos Acio, giving Navy a 28-24 lead. The Pirates responded with a drive resulting in Daffer kicking his second field goal of the game on fourth and one.

After scoring three points, ECU kicked the ball back to Navy. Freshman slotback Maquel Haywood returned the kickoff 98 yards for another rushing touchdown for the Midshipmen. The Pirates did not waver, putting together a drive that resulted in Ahlers throwing a touchdown to Snead. ECU went for the two-point conversion, which they were able to convert on a pass from Ahlers to Johnson to tie the game at 35-35.

Navy came back on offense, putting together a seven-play drive which stalled on fourth down due to a delay of game penalty. ECU got the ball back with 1:24 left in the fourth quarter. The Pirates were able to bring the ball to the Navy 36-yard line, setting up Daffer to attempt a field goal with four seconds left in regulation.

Daffer converted the 54-yard field goal, his third of the day and the longest of his career. The walk-off game winner allowed ECU to complete its first four-game win streak since joining the AAC and beat Navy for the first time in 10 years. This game for the Pirates also marks the first time the team has had a seven-win season since 2014.

Ahlers finished the game with 405 yards and three touchdowns on a completion percentage of 84%. Lavatai only attempted four passes due to the 44 rushing attempts from Navy. In those four attempts, Lavatai threw for 37 yards and two touchdowns on a completion percentage of 100%.

Coming off the win, ECU will face No. 3 ranked Cincinnati University (11-0-0, 10-0-0 AAC) Nov. 26 at 3:30 p.m. in Greenville, North Carolina. The game will be televised on ABC and will be available to listen to at 107.9 WNCT-FM.

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