Nelson Smith ran for a career-high 157 yards and two touchdowns and Jamale Crothers rushed for 82 yards and a score to help visiting Navy remain unbeaten in the American Athletic Conference with a 27-23 victory against East Carolina on Saturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C.
Navy (3-2, 3-0 AAC) ran for 288 yards behind an inconsistent yet opportunistic triple-option attack, holding on after ECU scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
The Pirates (1-3, 1-2) rushed for 268 yards, with Rahjai Harris gashing Navy for a career-best 172 yards and a touchdown and quarterback Mason Garcia, a fellow freshman, running for 63 yards and a score.
After the Pirates drew to within 27-20 on an 80-yard touchdown run from Harris with 14:15 to go, the Midshipmen went three-and-out, leading to a 39-yard Jake Verity field goal. Navy got the ball back with 6:33 to play and possessed the ball until punting it away with 27 seconds to go.
The game ended when Navy intercepted an ECU lateral attempt near midfield on the final play.
Navy struggled to find an offensive rhythm for much of the first half, mixing a pair of turnovers and two punts in with a touchdown over its first five possessions.
As a result, East Carolina started three successive drives inside Midshipmen territory, but the Pirates came away with just 10 points during that span. The Pirates put together an eight-play touchdown drive to take their first lead of the afternoon with 7:03 to go before halftime, punctuating the possession when Garcia scored from three yards out for his first career TD.
Navy responded with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped off by a nine-yard Dalen Morris scoring run with 3:48 remaining in the second quarter. A poor snap and hold led to a missed point-after attempt, as the teams entered halftime tied at 13.
Garcia started in place of junior Holton Ahlers, who saw his streak of 15 successive starts end as he missed the game due to COVID-19-related protocols. Four other Pirates, including senior safety Tank Robinson, also were out due to COVID-19 protocol.
For Navy, Tyger Goslin relieved Morris under center in the third quarter after Morris absorbed a late hit while going to the ground. Morris didn't return.
Garcia was 10-for-20 passing for 109 yards.
--Field Level Media