Navy Outlasts East Carolina, 27-23

Sports

GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina nearly erased a two-touchdown deficit in the second half Saturday afternoon, but Navy held on for a 27-23 American Athletic Conference victory at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.  
 
The Midshipmen (3-2, 3-0 AAC) remained unbeaten in league play while the Pirates (1-3, 1-2 AAC) came up just short in an attempt for their first 2-1 American Conference record since 2015.   
 
Freshman running back Rahjai Harris exploded for a career-high 172 yards on 22 rushes and a touchdown while classmate and quarterback Mason Garcia – who played in place of regular starter Holton Ahlers, completed 10 of 20 pass attempts for 104 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Garcia also added 63 rushing yards and a three-yard touchdown run. Harris nearly became the first East Carolina running back to collect a 200-yard effort since Breon Allen’s 211-yard showing against North Carolina back on Sept. 20, 2014.  
 
Navy’s Nelson Smith posted a personal-best rushing effort, racking up 157 yards on 17 attempts with two touchdowns. Jamale Carothers also notched 82 yards with a touchdown to pace the Midshipmen efforts on the ground.  
 
In a contest during which the teams combined for just six penalties (three by each side), ECU out-gained Navy 378-318 – a total which included a season-high 268 rushing yards. The Midshipmen held the advantage in that statistic, ending up with 288 of their own.  
 
Junior linebacker Xavier Smith, after setting a career high in tackles with 12 last week at USF, turned in a new standard with a team-best 15 (three solo). Diego Fagot paced Navy with 12 (five solo).  
 
The visitors’ initial drive didn’t last long as Malik Fleming intercepted an errant throw from Morris and gave East Carolina possession at its own 12. After the Midshipmen forced a three and out, they took over at midfield and used just six plays and 3:06 to find the endzone as a 20-yard scamper Smith scamper made it 7-0.  
 
ECU responded on the ensuing drive following a couple of first-down conversions that put the Pirates at the Navy 23. The reliable Verity knocked the ball through the uprights to slice the Midshipmen cushion to four.  
 
Sophomore lineman Rick D’Abreu kept the opportunistic East Carolina defense chugging along just two plays into Navy’s next drive, stripping the ball from Morris before freshman defensive lineman Elijah Morris recovered it to set the Pirates up at the Midshipmen 25. ECU could not find the endzone, but Verity converted a 25-yard field goal to bring East Carolina within one with 2:23 remaining in the opening stanza.  
 
The Pirate continued to stiffen as the second quarter commenced, forcing a three and out. Garcia drove ECU down to the Navy 12, but the Midshipmen forced a third-straight Verity field goal try. This time, it was blocked as the Pirates were not able to assume their first lead of the day.  
 
Forcing yet another Navy punt on the next Midshipmen possession, East Carolina finally grabbed the upper hand. Garcia found sophomore receiver Tyler Snead on a key fourth-down conversion before eventually taking the ball himself three yards to paydirt and giving the Pirates a 13-7 edge.  
 
A 32-yard Nelson Smith rush served as the impetus for a game-tying Navy drive just three minutes later. Morris found Ryan Mitchell for 14 yards down to the ECU nine then scored from nine yards out himself. A missed extra point left the score knotted at 13 with 3:48 showing on the first half clock. Both teams had one last possession to seize control before the break but did not convert.  
 
It was a statistical stalemate in the first two quarters. East Carolina finished with the slight edge in total offense (180-161) while the Midshipmen enjoyed a slight edge in rushing yards (131-127). The Pirates played a relatively clean half of football, turning Navy over twice in its first three possessions while punting just two times.  
 
The difference in the game was eventually found in the third quarter when ECU lost the football twice at midfield via a fumble and failed fourth-down conversion attempt. Meanwhile Smith and Carothers recorded 29 and three-yard touchdown runs just five minutes apart to propel the Midshipmen into the lead at 27-13 entering the final frame.  
 
All while holding Navy without a point in the fourth quarter, East Carolina reduced its deficit to seven when Harris ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run down the left sideline just 45 seconds into the stanza before Verity’s kick from 39 yards out was true with a little over six minutes left to make it 27-23. The Pirates assumed possession with 22 seconds to play following a Midshipmen punt, but ECU could not reach midfield as time expired.  
 
East Carolina returns to the gridiron in two weeks’ time (Friday, Oct. 30), traveling to Tulsa for an American Athletic Conference affair broadcast by ESPN2. Kickoff at Chapman Stadium is slated for 9 p.m. (ET) in the Pirates’ first visit to the Sooner State since 2016.  

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