• Diane Roberts

Pirates Sink Navy, Steal Win On Mids' Senior Day

by Diane Roberts

The focus was on the Seniors last Saturday in Annapolis. Not only would they be playing their final game at Navy/Marine Corp Memorial Stadium, but they also got their military service assignments for after graduation. Linebacker & co-captain Diego Fagot is destined for the Marine Corp Ground Forces, while slotback & co-captain Chance Warren will become a Navy pilot.

But on the gridiron, the Midshipmen's assignment this week was East Carolina. A strong performance from the Mids' senior corps was punctuated by electrifying freshman play. In the end, it was an East Carolina freshman who would break the hearts of the Navy faithful as time expired, handing the Mids a 38-35 loss.

The pomp and circumstance celebrating the Midshipmen seniors could only foreshadow the drama that was to come. ECU brought its potent offense to Annapolis and started quick, marching 75 yards in 6 plays to take a 7-0 lead.

But the Mids were up to the task. Quarterback Tai Lavatai finished off a 10-play, 78-yard drive with a 4-yard strike to senior receiver Mychal Cooper to tie the score at seven.

And that’s how the first half would go: punch/counter-punch as all seven possessions by both teams ended up with points. Seniors Warren and Isaac Ruoss both scored touchdowns.

Navy senior Carlinos Acie, from McKeesport, PA, runs down the football field carrying the ball on his way to the endzone in what would be a 90-yard touchdown run for the Midshipmen in their game against the Pirates of East Carolina University at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium on the campus of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD November 20, 2021.
Navy freshman Marquel Haywood, from Wake Forest, NC, carries the ball on a kickoff return in what would be a 92-yard touchdown for the Midshipmen in their game against the Pirates of East Carolina University at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium on the campus of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, November 20, 2021.

"You know, probably one of the best games we played all year offensively," said Navy Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo.

The Pirates would score three first half TD’s and a field goal to lead 24-21 at the half.

After a scoreless third, and following a Pirates punt, senior slotback Carlinos Acie would add some flash, dashing around left end for a 90-yard touchdown scamper that would give Navy a 28-24 lead.

"He got this one today," Lavatai said after the game, "So it was great just to see him explode to the hole like that."

Acie would finish the day with 155 yards rushing on just six carries.

An ECU field goal would cut the lead to 28-27, but only for a bit. On the ensuing kick-off, freshman returner Maquel Haywood would take the rock 98 yards to the house and extend the Navy lead to 35-27 with 8:30 left in the game.

"That's been a big emphasis the last two weeks," Niumatalolo said. "We need some big plays and we got some big plays. You know, guys stepped up, made some big plays."

Pirates' quarterback Holton Ahlers, who ended the day with 405 yards passing, directed a 7-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, and the two-point conversion tied the game with five minutes left.

The Midshipmen seemed destined to march down the field for a shot at winning score, but on a 3rd down pass to receiver Mark Walker, who appeared to have a first down, a Pirate defender caused Walker to fumble. The ball rolled backwards and went out of bounds negating the first down. The Mids were forced to punt with 84 seconds left.

Ahlers marched his Pirates squad down field, including a 46-yard pass to Tyler Snead to setup a shot at a game-winning 49-yard field goal. But a false start penalty pushed the ball back another 5 yards for freshman, walk-on kicker Owen Daffer. Daffer's career long was from 39 yards leading up to that point.

As time expired, Daffer hit the game winner to send the Mids to their eighth defeat in ten games this season.

Afterwards in the locker-room, heartbreak and the realization that they just didn’t get it done.

"We didn't finish the job that we wanted to finish," Lavatai said.

"A lot of missed tackles and mistakes in the back end that we don't normally make," said Navy cornerback Michael McMorris.

Coach Niumatalolo felt for his players. "It's hard to come out of that locker room to see those guys, and everybody's devastated right now, especially our seniors," the Head Coach said, "A lot of tears in there. Just told those guys, I love them. Sorry for the seniors that we couldn't send them out the right way."

Navy has two games left this season. Their final conference game, at Temple, is up next. The Owls are 3-8 on the year and 1-6 in conference action. The tilt versus Navy is the final game of the season for Temple.

Navy will then take a week off before their big match-up with Army on December 12.

edited for web by Joe Harman