ANNAPOLIS, MD —
East Carolina seems to bring out the best in Navy. Maybe it's that old
thing with pirates and the Navy that ultimately led to Blackbeard's
The factor that produced a
45-21 win for the Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium on Saturday
was more about Navy senior quarterback Keenen Reynolds and ECU's
inability to stop him or keep pace with his offensive production.
Reynolds ran 24 times for
142 yards with five touchdowns and when he wasn't keeping he was making
the split-second decisions with seasoned effectiveness that make an
option attack go.
Fullback Chris Swain was a
sledgehammer on the interior with 29 carries for 123 yards. Navy (2-0)
ran for 415 yards and Reynolds completed 4 of 7 passes for 41 more
Navy's first ever American
Athletic Conference game was a study in contrasting offensive
The Pirates (1-2) managed
80 yards on the ground, which was better than the minus-13 ECU was
limited to in
a 31-24 loss at Florida last
Blake Kemp again triggered
a productive passing attack as he completed 36 of 49 for 325 yards with
three touchdowns and one interception. Kemp was sacked twice.
Where Navy was better was
in terms of its consistency. The Midshipmen scored on every first half
possession and led 28-7 before Kemp found Bryce Williams for a 17-yard
score at the close of the first half.
That cut the deficit to
28-14 and that was huge in keeping the Pirates in the game for a while
longer. With Navy due to receive the second half kickoff, the Pirates
were looking at a potentially-insurmountable situation.
"The drive right before
half to get us within 14 points was big," said ECU coach Ruffin McNeill.
"We did a good job of valuing possessions (offensively) in the first
half. That was a great connection between Kemp and Bryce."
But the play only postponed
the inevitable as AAC commissioner Mike Aresco and a crowd of 34,717
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began to solve the option attack to a degree defensively
after intermission but the offense would have had to be
almost perfect in the final 30 minutes and it wasn't.
When the defense stopped
Navy a yard short at the ECU 26 on a fourth down on the first series of
the second half, the Pirates picked up a pair of first downs with a
third- and fourth-down conversion. But Kemp was stopped on a subsequent
fourth down as he tried to scramble through the pocket on a busted play.
The defense forced a Navy
punt but Kemp lost a fumble at the Navy 17. Reynolds was in the end zone
with his fourth touchdown four plays later for a 35-14 Navy lead just 50
seconds into the fourth quarter.
"Frustrating," Kemp said.
"We had opportunities and we didn't capitalize."
The margin didn't swell to
the proportions of
a 76-35 Navy win in Greenville
in 2010 or
a 56-28 Midshipmen triumph
over the host Pirates in 2012. In between, Dominique Davis led ECU to
a 38-35 win in Annapolis in
Williams' 8-yard TD grab
capped a 93-yard drive and got ECU within 35-21 with 10:20 to go.
Reynolds escaped for a
17-yard score with 3:45 remaining and Austin Grebe's 25-yard field goal
for Navy with 35 seconds left closed the scoring.
The Pirates didn't offer
"They are a good team and
they executed better than we did," said ECU outside linebacker Montese
Overton. "We didn't come out and play like we were supposed to."
Overton had nine solo
tackles and three assists to lead the Pirates with a game-high 12 stops.
Mike linebacker Zeek Bigger had six solos and five assists for 11 total
Isaiah Jones had 10 catches
for 130 yards to lead the receivers. Jimmy Williams had seven receptions
for 55 yards and a score.
One of the good aspects of
the setback in the league opener for the Pirates is that it doesn't
remove ECU from controlling its fate as far as the AAC East Division
title is concerned. The Pirates still play every other division member
and would have the head-to-head tiebreaker in a one-league loss deadlock
if they can win the rest of their conference games.
That's looking a long way
down the road.
Virginia Tech comes to
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium next Saturday. ECU
won 28-21 in Blacksburg
last year with a different set of offensive leaders.
The Pirates have a chance
to make another big statement in the region before returning to AAC play
at Southern Methodist the following week.
"You have to learn
something each week," McNeill said. "We have no time to sit back and
sulk or feel sorry for ourselves. We have Virginia Tech coming into our
home and they will be ready to play. We have to match that."