For Navy’s 25 seniors, the final game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium ended in utter heartbreak. East Carolina kicker Owen Daffer drilled a career-best 54-yard field goal at time expired to deliver the Midshipmen a 38-35 Senior Day defeat on Nov. 20.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. This was a gut-wrenching final home game for Navy’s seniors.
For the first time in the last 18 years with fans in the stands, Navy (2-8, 2-5 American) was unable to find a way to win on Senior Day.
“It is a heartbreaker, just a heartbreaking loss,” head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Heartbreaking for our seniors. They laid it all on the line.”
The Midshipmen led by eight, 35-27, after Maquel Haywood returned an ECU kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown with 8:33 left.
Down the stretch, the defense gave up a seven-play, 70-yard touchdown drive followed by a successful two-point conversion and a four-play, 44-yard drive which set up Daffer’s 54-yarder as time expired. In between, an offensive possession stalled just across midfield as Navy sought a go-ahead score.
2. Tai Lavatai threw for two touchdowns in the first half.
Sophomore quarterback Tai Lavatai entered Nov. 20 with one career touchdown pass, but he threw two in the first half.
His first went to senior wide receiver Mychal Cooper from 4 yards out. The duo had connected three plays earlier for a 27-yard completion to the ECU 6-yard line.
Early in the second quarter, Navy tied the score at 14 when Lavatai hit senior slotback Chance Warren for a 4-yard strike.
Lavatai completed all four of his pass attempts for 37 yards.
3. Also out of character for Navy, big plays carried the Midshipmen in the second half.
Though it was unusual for the Midshipmen to throw for two touchdowns in the first half, the long and sustained drives were textbook Navy. All three first-half touchdown drives went at least 70 yards and lasted at seven plays.
In the fourth quarter, Navy hit a pair of home runs. In the first minute of the final quarter, Carlinos Acie broke loose for a 90-yard touchdown run on the first play of a possession — the fifth longest play in program history. Five and a half minutes later, Haywood returned the kickoff for a touchdown after an ECU field goal had cut Navy’s lead to one, 28-27. Navy had not returned a kickoff to the end zone since 2012.
It was the first time in program history the Midshipmen had two plays of 90 yards or longer in a game.
4. It’s hard to win when allowing nearly 600 yards.
The Pirates racked up 563 yards of offense compared to 382 from Navy. It was the most yards the Midshipmen have given up this season. Quarterback Colton Ahlers put on a clinic, completing 27 of 32 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns. Eight different receivers caught passes for ECU.
“Our defense has been carrying us most of the year. Unfortunately, we had a hard time stopping them,” Niumatalolo said. “That’s a really good offense with a good quarterback and scheme. We had some assignment errors there too, but I don’t want to take anything away from ECU.”
The Pirates scored on their first four possessions of the game, including three touchdowns, and did not punt until the fourth quarter.
5. Ken Niumatalolo was OK after a scary moment in the first half.
Navy’s defense has endured the injury bug this season. Its offensive-minded head coach joined the mix.
Late in the second quarter, a tackle made along the Navy sideline resulted in a player colliding with Ken Niumatalolo. The coach stayed on his back for several moments while trainers appeared to inspect his knee.
Niumatalolo seemed to limp briefly but was able to remain on the sideline and coach the remainder of the game.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox