College Football

Navy football beats East Carolina, 23-20, in double overtime to earn first win of season

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Daniel Davies did not find out he would be handling placekicks for Navy football’s first road game of the season until Thursday night.

Assistant coach Mick Yokitis, who oversees the kickers, made the decision after evaluating Davies and Evan Warren throughout the week.


“Mick has been watching them closely and charting everything. It was really close and went back and forth. It was kind of a gut feeling,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said.

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 on Saturday night.


Davies, who had never even attempted a field goal coming into the contest, wound up making three to help the Midshipmen (1-2) earn their first win of the season.

“You can’t really describe it. We needed that win so bad. When you get into those situations, you have to make the kick,” Davies said of drilling the game-winner.

Davies normally serves as the holder for placekicks and thus has been part of game-winning kicks by Bijan Nichols in the past. Nichols, a four-year starter and senior captain, has yet to appear in a game this season due to a leg injury.

Davies noted that long snapper Byron Rhodes and fill-in holder Kellen Grave de Peralta also deserve recognition for the three successful field goals.

“Credit to Byron and Kellen because this is the first time that whole operation has been out there in a game. I have to kick it, but they have to do everything else,” Davies said.

Perhaps the most clutch kick came in the first overtime session as Navy not only failed to pick up a first down, but also lost yardage because quarterback Tai Lavatai got sacked on first down. With the Midshipmen trailing 20-17 and needing a field goal to extend the game, Davies came on and calmly nailed a 43-yarder.

Davies said he felt good in warmups and was making field goals from 50 yards with the wind and 45 going against it. He had a chance to win a game in overtime for J.J. Pearce High and missed. The senior from Richardson, Texas, was not about to blow another such opportunity.

“That’s what you prepare for in practice — every kick in practice is a game-winner. In the moment, you’re ready for it,” Davies said.

Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai carries the ball against East Carolina on Saturday in Greenville, North Carolina.

Owen Daffer, who was the hero of East Carolina’s 38-35 victory over Navy last season, missed a 37-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the score at 23 and forced a third overtime.

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 redshirt sophomore narrowly missed wide right and the Midshipmen (1-2, 1-1) stormed the field in wild celebration. Navy is now 5-0 at the Pirates’ home field.

“I’m just proud of our players. We’ve got some resilient kids and we’re fighters,” Niumatalolo said. “Just a big relief, and more than anything, I’m happy for our players.”

Niumatalolo did not see the field goal as his eyes were closed and his head was bowed in prayer. It was the same story last season when Daffer made a career-long 54-yarder to beat the Midshipmen on their homecoming at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“I had my head down last year when they made it and I had my head down this year when they missed it,” Niumatalolo said.

Navy’s offense showed marked improvement, although it had trouble finishing after moving into East Carolina territory. Lavatai directed a balanced attack that amassed a season-high 343 total yards.


A lot of that came through the air as Lavatai completed seven of 11 passes for 152 yards. Junior slotback Vincent Terrell Jr. was the primary target and totaled three receptions for 114 yards.

“Our guys fought their butts off tonight. We really came off the ball up front, the wideouts and slotbacks were holding their blocks and the fullbacks were running hard,” Lavatai said. “I was very pleased to see that because we haven’t been playing our style of football the first few weeks. It was great to see everyone on offense come ready to play.”

It’s been a season of missed opportunities for the Navy offense and that trend continued in the first half. 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 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.

Navy slotback Maquel Haywood is hit out of bounds by East Carolina safety Teagan Wilk on Saturday in Greenville, North Carolina.

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 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 Terrell, who snagged an absolute bullet from Lavatai for a 31-yard gain.

That set up a 37-yard field goal by 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.

East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers passes while pressured by Navy safety John Marshall on Saturday in Greenville, North Carolina.

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.

“It was just a simple seam route. Nobody was deep and Tai made a great read. They recruited me to run fast, so I just did my job,” Terrell said.

East Carolina tailback Rahjai Harris fumbled on the first play of the subsequent possession. Navy nose guard Nolan Barber 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.

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.


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