ECU Falls To Navy In Double Overtime

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GREENVILLE, N.C. For the second time in the first month of the season, East Carolina will have to find a way to recover from a heart-wrenching, last-second loss. The latest gut punch came at the hands of one of its biggest nemesis in Navy.

When Owen Daffer’s 37-yard field goal attempt hooked left of the upright, the Midshipmen celebrated a 23-20 double-overtime victory on a Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium turf where they have never lost in five trips. The loss on a comfortable Saturday evening denied the Pirates (2-2, 0-1 AAC) a third straight win to close out a four-game homestand and puts them at 0-1 in the American Athletic Conference heading into a pair of road games.

ECU lost its opener to NC State 21-20 when Daffer missed both an extra point and a field goal in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Holton Ahlers said fingers should not be pointing at Daffer for this loss considering the mistakes and missed opportunities.

“If you want to put that game on anyone, put it on Holton Ahlers, don’t put it on Owen Daffer,” Ahlers said. “It’s a full game. It came down to one kick because we missed a bunch of plays. It should have come down to a kick at the end of regulation. He should have had a chance to win it instead of trying to tie it in double overtime.”

The Pirates seemed poised to repeat last year’s thrilling victory at Navy when Daffer nailed a career-long 54-yarder as time expired, taking possession at their 14 with 3:17 to play in a frantic fourth period featuring four touchdowns.

Three completions by Ahlers moved ECU to the Navy 46, but Tyler Fletcher snuffed out the threat with an interception with 25 seconds showing. Ahlers said he should have tucked the ball and run as he scrambled out of the pocket on second-and-1 instead of throwing into coverage downfield.

“I should have just run and took as many yards as I could and got out of bounds,” Ahlers said. “That’s 100 percent on me. If I put us in field goal range there, it gives us a chance to win it, so I take full responsibility of that whole entire game honestly.”

The Pirates’ other turnover also proved costly, a fourth-quarter fumble at their 25 that Navy cashed in for a brief 17-10 lead. Six penalties – twice their season average – also proved costly for the Pirates. Navy (1-2, 1-1 AAC) had just one penalty for five yards.

“One down deep in our territory was big,” head coach Mike Houston said of the turnovers. “… The one at the end of regulation was big because we had a chance to win it at the end of regulation.

“Like I said before the game, turnovers and penalties were going to be paramount in this ballgame because I did very much feel like this game was going to come down exactly the way it did. It’s just what you expect when you play that bunch.”

A grind-it-out game where possessions are limited are also a near guarantee. Navy owned the time of possession, keeping the ball 37:02 of regulation. The Midshipmen put together three 11-play drives and a 13-play drive in their first six possession but managed only three points.

ECU stuffed Navy’s first drive at the 1, the third time the Pirates have stopped a team inside the 3-yard-line this season. Another drive also ended on downs, and a fumble ended yet another drive.

But ECU couldn’t muster much on offense, struggling to find a rhythm against Navy’s blitzing defense and missing its big-play threat with Keaton Mitchell sidelined with an injury (he had 5 yards and five carries). The Pirates settled for a 19-yard Daffer field goal after a 96-yard drive to the 2 in the first quarter but didn’t strike again until the fourth quarter.

After two straight games with more than 500-plus total yards, ECU managed just 370 against Navy. Ahlers, who eclipsed Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder’s as the AAC’s all-time total yards leader, threw for 267 yards and a pair of touchdowns, completing 22 of 34 passes. Isaiah Winstead finished with 11 receptions for 143 yards, including a dazzling 67-yard catch and run to tie the score at 17-17 in the fourth quarter.

Rahjai Harris led the rushing attack with 78 yards on 15 carries, highlighted by a 41-yard run in the first period.

“They had two weeks to prepare for us,” Ahlers said of Navy’s defense. “They called a great defensive game and kept us on our toes, really the whole game. They did a couple of new blitzes that we hadn’t seen with coverage behind it that we hadn’t seen. Hats off to them, but it comes down to us, and we’ve just got to execute better.”

Houston said the Pirates missed the big play potential of Mitchell, who has 17 career plays of at least 20 yards, including five this season.

“It’s not serious, but obviously it hurts you,” Houston said. “We’re fortunate to have Rahjai, but obviously you want a fresher 1-2 punch right there. I thought Rahjai did a lot of good things.”

Harris did cough up a fumble that set up Navy’s go-ahead touchdown in a fourth-quarter shootout. The teams entered the final period locked in a 3-3 tie before reeling off 28 points. Ahlers hit Ryan Jones with a 14-yard pass for a 10-3 lead, but Navy quickly answered with a rare pass as Tai Lavatai teamed up with Vincent Terrell Jr. on a 65-yard strike.

Anton Hall scored five plays after the Harris fumble for a 17-10 lead, but ECU had its own quick reply with Ahlers throwing a 67-yarder to Winstead.

Daffer gave ECU a 20-17 lead in the first overtime, and Davies answered with a 43-yarder. Navy again turned to Davies on its second possession and took a 23-20 lead when his 29-yarder slipped just inside the upright. Daffer’s attempt to force a third overtime missed.

Now ECU must regroup.

“It’s not just the missed kick; it’s a lot more than that,” defensive lineman Jeremy Lewis said. “You’ve just got to keep going, keep grinding. We’re going to come back tomorrow, practice and get better and keep stacking days. It’s all about the next play, next game, next day.”

Houston said the loss does not change the Pirates’ goals

“In 2012, we lost our first conference game of the season in a hard-fought battle, and we won the conference championship,” said Houston of his previous stop at Lenoir-Rhyne. “It’s not like you’re out of it. They’re going to be in a bunch of ballgames like this. Week in, week out, this is what the league’s going to be like. You’re going to be in a bunch of situations where it’s going to come down to the very end of the ballgame, it’s going to come down to the last drive.”


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