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Game No. 7: ECU 38, Navy 35


Game Slants
Saturday, October 22, 2011

By Denny O'Brien

Davis delivers record-setting day

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

ANNAPOLIS, MD — It wasn’t long ago that Dominique Davis’s status as East Carolina’s starting quarterback was in question.

Make it two weeks to be exact, when Davis was relieved during a 56-3 loss to Houston after throwing three interceptions and failing to find any rhythm. At his best that day, Davis was uncertain and lacked confidence against a mediocre Cougars defense.

But that was two games ago, the equivalent of an eternity in the ebb and flow of college football. And Davis isn’t remotely the same quarterback who appeared lost and confused amid a heavy Houston rush.

In a 38-35 upset win over Navy Saturday, Davis didn’t even resemble the same quarterback who engineered four comeback victories last year. To understate it, he was a much better version of himself.

So much better that he was five plays short of perfection. Davis, who finished 40 of 45 for 372 yards and two touchdowns, completed his first 26 passes, rewriting the NCAA record for the most consecutive completions in a single game.

If you dial it back to the Pirates’ win over Memphis last week, Davis rode a streak of 36-straight completions before misfiring on the Pirates’ opening possession of the second half.

Not bad for a guy for whom many within Pirate Nation were demanding an exile to the bench. Good thing Pirates Coach Ruffin McNeill turned a deaf ear to the armchair coaches who sought a demotion.

“Dominique led us,” McNeill said. “He made great audibles. Dominique is one of those guys who really has so much self pride that he will take the reigns himself. He’s our leader. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around.

"What he did tonight and what he’s done the last couple of weeks doesn’t surprise me.”

Nor should it.

When you closely observe Davis’s career to date, his performance against Houston was the exception, not the rule. Otherwise, he has been cool under pressure and a proficient distributor of the football.

Just consider that of the nine wins during the McNeill era, five of them have been fourth quarter comebacks engineered by Davis. The win over Navy was one of them.

When Navy receiver Matt Aiken corralled a 37-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Trey Miller to push Navy ahead 35-31, it was the perfect opportunity for the Pirates to shift into meltdown mode. Less than eight minutes remained and ECU had just squandered a 10-point fourth quarter lead.

Instead of retreating into a moment of panic, Davis did what he normally does in these scenarios. He delivered. And he did so at a time when the Pirates’ season had officially entered a desperation point.

A loss would have put ECU’s bowl hopes in serious doubt. At 2-5, that would have left almost no room for error with several tough opponents remaining on the schedule.

With the game and ECU’s season in the balance, Davis calmly marched the Pirates down the field for the winning score. He did so by managing the offense as flawlessly as he’s ever done, taking exactly what the defense offered and making the correct calls at the line of the scrimmage.

Davis didn’t try to do too much, but he did more than enough. With the offensive line executing as well as it has all season, he let that unit and running back Reggie Bullock carry much of the load.

Then, on a critical 4th and five with 5:51 remaining, Davis calmly found freshman Danny Webster for 11 yards on a play that essentially saved the season for ECU.

“I was just trying to be a leader on the offense and just get the ball into the receivers’ hands,” Davis said of his performance. “Coach (offensive coordinator Lincoln) Riley put me in a great position to be successful. I just come in every week and stay positive and stay excited.

"If I just keep doing the routine plays, the floodgates will open.”

They opened in a major way for Davis and East Carolina Saturday. They opened with 504 yards of offense and a 38-35 statement win over a Navy team that embarrassed the Pirates in Greenville last year.

Davis’s record-breaking performance Saturday couldn’t have come at a more crucial moment in the season, or happened to a more humble, hardworking guy.

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10/23/2011 03:10:52 AM

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