...GUSTY WINDS TO 25 KNOTS THROUGH EARLY TONIGHT...
Strong southwest winds will gust to 25 knots for a few hour period
across the Neuse, Bay, Pamlico, and Pungo Rivers. Strong winds
could cause a sudden roughening of the waves as well. Operators
of small craft should remain in port until the strong winds
East Carolina cornerbacks Malik Fleming (4) and Ja’Quan McMillian celebrate stopping Navy from reaching a first down Oct. 17, 2020, at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Thanks in part to an exemplary, 60-minute defensive effort, East Carolina battled visiting Navy until the final whistle in a 27-23 Midshipmen victory that was nothing like the grossly lopsided routs by the Mids over the Pirates in recent history.
In fact, Navy (3-2, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) amassed a massive average of 430.5 yards on the ground alone in its four previous wins over ECU. Although the visitors finished off the Pirates (1-3, 1-2) once again, this time ECU had the final possession in a one-score game, and it offered its own promising rushing attack. Navy’s pair of key second-half touchdowns helped it slightly out-gain the Pirates in ground yards, 288-268. ECU actually out-gained the Mids in total yards, 372-318.
The storyline to get to the final score featured numerous key Pirate stops and a couple of first-half turnovers that helped give rise to a 13-13 game at halftime. More promising was the give-and-take between the offense and the defense in creating opportunities throughout the game.
“I think it’s the team. It’s the combination of the way we’re able to run the ball offensively and the way we competed defensively,” ECU head coach Mike Houston said of the effort of his defensive unit under first-year coordinator Blake Harrell. “We had some adversity early in the ball game and really responded great defensively, but our offense got us right back in the ball game in the fourth quarter.”
Navy’s second-half touchdowns made the difference and offset Rahjai Harris’ dazzling 80-yard touchdown run for ECU that made it 27-20 in the first minute of the fourth.
Navy was able to extend a drive late in the fourth and maraud the Pirates of precious minutes to stage a final comeback. That included converting a fourth-and-2 near midfield for a fresh set of downs, allowing the guests to exhaust more of the clock before punting and forcing a deep fair catch that set up a final ECU drive that began with just 22 seconds left.
It was costly, but one of the few negatives for the ECU defense.
“That’s it, you’ve got to get a stop,” Houston said of the key conversion by Navy late in the fourth. “When they got the ball back with 6:33 to go, you knew you had to get a stop somewhere in there. You had to get a fourth down and get a stop. If you get a stop, you win the game, or you have a shot to win the game.”
Junior inside linebacker Xavier Smith made a team-high 15 tackles to lead ECU, but it was the non-stop energy from the Pirates’ front that had Navy spinning its wheels at times to keep the game close. Sophomore Rick D’Abreu had 10 stops, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble, and graduate transfer line mate Chris Willis had nine tackles and a sack.
Also for ECU, freshman lineman Elijah Morris scooped a fumble and sophomore defensive back Malik Fleming had an interception on the opening drive.
“I think this year, the guys on this team and the guys in the locker room, we all surround each other, we all support each other,” Smith said. “The group that was on the field today, all we did was go out there and fight and did our jobs and just kept fighting. That’s all we can do.”
After Harris’ touchdown, the Pirates got big stops from D’Abreu and Fleming to force a quick three-and-out and then marched the length of the field to kick a field goal and make it 27-23.