Owen Daffer hit a stunner on Saturday evening in Annapolis, Md.

The East Carolina placekicker drove a 54-yard stake into the hearts of Navy, kicking a field goal as time expired to give the Pirates a 38-35 triumph for their seventh win of the season.

“I’ve had some game-winning walk-offs, but that was incredible,” ECU head coach Mike Houston said. “What a freaking kick. That’s probably as long as anything he’s hit in practice. ... I knew this was going to be a nail-biter and we’d have to play our tails off to win it.”

ECU (7-4, 5-2 American Athletic Conference) appeared to have played its way out of field goal range with time running out in the fourth quarter and the game tied 35-35. The Pirates took an untimely false start and attempted a long Daffer field goal anyway with overtime seemingly inevitable.

Instead, the kick was true and the Pirates scored just their second win in the all-time series and second at Navy.

The Pirates fought for their lives in the fourth quarter. The game initially came down to a fourth-and-four from the Navy 28 for the Pirates, trailing by eight points. Under a heavy blitz, ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers sent a pass to receiver Tyler Snead, who eluded coverage and raced to the end zone for a touchdown to pull ECU within two, 35-33. On the two-point conversion, Ahlers found CJ Johnson in the end zone to deadlock the game 35-35.

A late Navy punt gave the Pirates the improbable chance to end the game in regulation.

Ahlers threw for 405 yards and a touchdown, while running back Keaton Mitchell eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing with 94 in the game. Snead hauled in five catches for 137 yards and Audie Omotosho made seven grabs for 90 yards.

A late special teams explosion by Navy (2-8) seemingly put away a close game, giving the Midshipmen a 35-27 lead. Clinging to a 28-27 lead following an ECU field goal, the host Midshipmen return man Maquel Haywood took the ensuing kick 98 yards for a touchdown and an eight-point lead with eight minutes still left to play.

The ECU defense forced the first two punts of the game in the third quarter, and the Pirates entered the final quarter in the lead. But after forcing a Navy punt out of its own end zone, the visitors could not cash in, going three-and-out.

That’s when Carlitos Acie took a handoff from his own 10-yard line, turned the corner and broke loose down the sideline for a long touchdown with 14:03 left in the fourth.

ECU responded with a scoring drive, but stalled at the Navy 7 and settled for Daffer’s second field goal of the game to make it 28-27 Navy.


After a chaotic first half, the defenses ruled a scoreless third quarter. The Pirates went for it on a fourth-and-goal from the 2, but Ahlers overthrew the ball to keep it a 24-21 lead.

The teams scored on every possession in the first half, and Ahlers’ 5-yard toss to tight end Ryan Jones with 17 seconds left in the half was the final possession and gave ECU a 24-21 edge at the much-needed break.

Before that was a dizzying back-and-forth the began with the Pirates scoring on the opening drive of the game and both teams holding serve through two quarters.

In all, the Pirates owned four leads in the opening 30 minutes.

ECU took a 7-0 lead on the opening possession, and Mitchell rolled over 1,000 yards for the season on the first play from scrimmage. The freshman back capped the possession with a 10-yard scoring trot.

The Mids countered with a seemingly easy drive that finished with the first of two surprise TD passes by Tai Lavatai, a 5-yard pass that knotted the game at 7-7 midway through the opening quarter.

Then it was the Pirates’ turn again, and Ahlers rifled a 40-yard bullet over the middle to Snead, who split a safety and a corner in coverage for a wide-open TD catch to make it 14-7 Pirates.

Early in the second quarter, Lavatai connected again, doubling his TD pass total heading into the game when he found Chance Warren in the back of the end zone to deadlock the game again, 14-14.

The Pirates settled for a 37-yard Daffer field goal on the next possession to make it 17-14, but Navy responded with another TD when Isaac Ruoss exploded up the middle for a 19-yard score and a 21-17 edge.

But ECU had the final answer in the half. On fourth-and-two in the final minute of the second, Ahlers zipped another TD strike to Jones from the 5, steering the Pirates back into the lead at the intermission, 24-21.

Ahlers threw for 197 yards and two scores in the first half, but Lavatai (35 yds.) also passed for a pair.

Mitchell dashed for 65 yards in the first half to help make the difference, part of ECU’s 298 total yards in the half.