GREENVILLE, N.C. — Owen Daffer was the hero of last season’s Navy-East Carolina football game, drilling a 54-yard field goal as time expired.
Daffer was the goat this season, missing a 37-yard field-goal attempt that would have forced a third overtime Saturday.
Daniel Davies, who was Navy’s third-string kicker to start the season, booted a game-winning 36-yard field goal on the opening possession of the second overtime session and it held up as Navy escaped Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with a 23-20 victory over East Carolina.
The host Pirates (2-2, 0-1 American Athletic Conference) failed to pick up a first down on their possession and turned to Daffer to extend the contest. The normally reliable senior kicker missed wide right and the Midshipmen (1-2, 1-1) stormed the field in wild celebration.
It’s been a season of missed opportunities for the Navy offense and that trend continued in the first half. Coach Ken Niumatalolo made a gutsy call by going for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 35-yard line on the Midshipmen’s opening possession. That gamble paid off as fullback Anton Hall Jr. gained 3 yards to convert.
That jump-started an 11-play drive that was helped along by a pair of face mask penalties against East Carolina. The Mids had first-and-goal from the 4 and remarkably could not punch it in.
Back-to-back fullback dives by Daba Fofana netted only 3 yards and a quarterback sneak by Tai Lavatai picked up 1 more. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Niumatalolo called another quarterback sneak, which was completely predictable.
Lavatai was stacked up by a host of defenders and was dropped for no gain, resulting in a turnover on downs.
East Carolina took over on its own goal line and proceeded to march 96 yards in 15 plays. Backed up against its own goal line, the Navy defense stood tall and forced a 19-yard field-goal attempt that Owen Daffer drilled to give the home team a 3-0 lead with 48 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Mids played well defensively throughout the first half, forcing three punts and holding the Pirates to 123 total yards.
Navy put together another solid drive in the early second quarter, marching from its own 9 to the East Carolina 42. However, it ended abruptly when Fofana was stripped by linebacker Xavier Smith and cornerback Juan Powell recovered the fumble.
It was the fifth lost fumble of the season for the Mids, who only had six all of last season.
Navy’s defense responded by forcing a three-and-out and that gave the offense another opportunity. This time the Mids were finally able to finish, thanks largely to a terrific catch by slotback Vincent Terrell Jr., who snagged an absolute bullet from Lavatai for a 31-yard gain.
That set up a 37-yard field goal by Daniel Davies, who split the uprights on his first career attempt to tie the score at 3 heading into halftime.
Navy’s offense came up empty on yet another promising drive late in the third quarter. Terrell made another superb grab and made two defenders miss on the way to an 18-yard gain into enemy territory.
Two strong runs by Lavatai on keepers produced another first down at the 34, but that is where things stalled. Two straight fullback dives gained only 1 yard, and next thing you know it was fourth-and-6.
Niumatalolo went for it and Lavatai made a terrible decision by not handing off to slotback Maquel Haywood, who had running room outside. Lavatai inexplicably kept the ball and immediately ran into a wall of defenders up the middle, leading to another turnover on downs.
East Carolina took over and put together its best drive of the game, marching 70 yards in just eight plays for the game’s first touchdown. Ahlers completed passes of 18 and 14 yards to get things going and Harris followed with a 24-yard run to get the Pirates into the red zone.
Ahlers capped off the impressive march by connecting with tight end Ryan Jones on a 14-yard scoring strike to make it 10-3 with 13:18 remaining in the game.
Navy’s offense, which had plodded up and down the field for most of the game, answered quickly. Lavatai kept the drive alive by completing a 10-yard pass to wide receiver Jayden Umbarger on third-and-10. On the very next play, Lavatai found Terrell open down the middle and delivered a perfect strike.
Terrell, who had gotten behind the entire defense, caught the pass in stride and proceeded to outrun several chasing defenders to the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown. Davies converted the extra point to tie the score at 10 with 11:56 to go.
East Carolina tailback Rahjai Harris fumbled on the first play of the subsequent possession. Navy defensive end Jacob Busic forced the fumble and safety Eavan Gibbons recovered at the home team’s 25.
The offense capitalized on the turnover and short field with Hall bursting through a hole up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown that gave Navy its first lead of the game, 17-10, with 9:15 remaining.
It didn’t last long as three plays later Ahlers completed a short pass to wide receiver Isaiah Winstead, who spun around and raced 65 yards for a touchdown. Cornerback Mbiti Williams tried to make a play on the ball and missed, leaving no one between Winstead and the end zone as East Carolina tied the game for a third time.
On Navy’s final possession, Niumatalolo went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 28, then declined to do so when confronted with the exact same situation at the East Carolina 47.
The Midshipmen punted then thwarted the Pirates’ attempt to set up a game-winning field goal as linebacker Tyler Fletcher intercepted an Ahlers pass. That turnover sent the game into overtime.
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The teams traded field goals in the initial overtime period with Daffer converting from 26 yards out and Daniel Davies answering with a career-long 43-yarder, leaving the score tied at 20.
Navy got the ball first to start the second overtime session and once again had to settle for a field goal, with Davies making a 36-yarder.
This story will be updated.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism