GREENVILLE — Zay Jones got the Football Bowl Subdivision career receptions record on Saturday and was recognized during a subsequent break in play with East Carolina leading Navy, 17-7.
“I’d like to congratulate Zay Jones,” said Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery. “I can’t put into words how proud I am of him.”
The bliss of the moment was brief as the Midshipmen scored the next 35 points in a 66-31 American Athletic Conference win at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, which has been a launching pad for Navy’s offense.
The Midshipmen won 76-35 at ECU in 2010 and 56-28 in a visit in 2012.
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Navy 66, East Carolina 31 | Nov. 19, 2016
- Al Myatt’s Inside Game Day: Navy rallies on Zay’s day
- W.A. Myatt’s Game Day Photo Gallery
- Audio: Coach Mo Post-Game
- Audio: AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco Press Conference
Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) clinched the league’s West Division title and a berth in the conference championship game on Dec. 3, a week before the Midshipmen meet rival Army.
Navy’s scoring production was interrupted by an 81-yard touchdown run from senior James Summers on ECU’s Senior Day. Jones came flying along the ECU sideline to provide some interference on Summers’ run. That cut the Midshipmen’s lead to 45-24 with 7:40 left in the third quarter. The Pirates had another big play with the issue seemingly decided as Gardner Minshew threw with a strong west wind on a 77-yard touchdown strike to Jones that cut the deficit to 52-31.
With Minshew making his first career start, Jones had 10 catches for 130 yards in the first half. His record-breaking 388th catch came on a 19-yard reception to the Navy 31 from Minshew with 11:15 to go in the first half. Jones finished with 12 catches for 212 yards and two scores, pushing the career record to 392.
Minshew went 16 for 25 for 238 yards with three TDs. All but four of his completions went to Jones, who moved within five catches of passing the single season FBS record of 155 receptions set by Freddie Barnes of Bowling Green in 2009.
ECU (3-8, 1-6) finishes the season at Temple (8-3, 6-1) on Saturday.
Minshew hit Jones and Jimmy Williams with first-quarter touchdown passes as the Pirates took a 14-7 lead.
A 43-yard field goal by Davis Plowman gave ECU a 17-7 lead and Jones’ record breaking grab was recognized during the ensuing break. Jones, previous record holder Justin Hardy and coach Montgomery embraced at midfield after Plowman hit his eighth straight field goal. Hardy, now with the Atlanta Falcons, set the record at ECU in 2014.
“I’ve known Justin a long time, even back when he was coming out of high school,” Montgomery said. ” . . . We joked about this situation before the season. . . . I told both of them it was probably the first time on a college football game on the field where I was the worst of the three receivers.”
Montgomery played in the NFL after his college career at Duke.
Former Pirates quarterback Shane Carden, now with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, also was on hand. He threw Jones his first college pass and also threw to Hardy for his record-breaking reception against Tulane in 2014.
Navy quarterback Will Worth soon changed the momentum as he hit Tyler Carmona for a 47-yard gain and finished a 52-yard drive with a 1-yard scoring keeper to pull Navy within 17-14 with 7:45 left in the first half.
After some dropped passes by the Pirates rain began to fall and the Midshipmen went ahead 21-17 on a 41-yard run by Shawn White with 6:12 left in the half.
The Pirates were in a 28-17 hole after the Midshipmen won a field position battle. A short kickoff return put ECU at its 11-yard line and a three-and-out by the Navy defense was followed by a 15-yard punt return by Calvin Cass Jr. put the Midshipmen at the Pirates’ 49. Worth found Jamir Tillman for 30 yards to lead off the series and White scored on a 7-yard run.
It was the third straight game ECU had yielded 24 or more points in the first half. A 29-yard field goal by Bennett Moehring pushed Navy’s lead to 31-17 with 14 seconds left in the half.
Navy’s triple option offense produced 480 rushing yards. Worth completed three of five passes for 113 yards. After the lone Midshipmen punt of the game early in the second quarter, Navy scored on its next nine possessions.
Bright spots other than Jones for the Pirates included just one penalty for five yards and the play of junior Ray Tillman at inside linebacker. Tillman had 11 solo tackles and seven assists.
“Ray probably is our fastest guy to get to the tackle point,” Montgomery said. “He did a really good job. . . . Today wasn’t really about schematics. . . . They knew what we were doing. We knew what they were doing. It was about the guy that could defeat the cut block or defeat the [drive] block and go tackle. He did a good job of that today.”