GREENVILLE — Navy torpedoed any thoughts East Carolina had of clinching bowl eligibility Saturday as it brutalized the Pirates 56-28 behind a dominant rushing performance on a rain-soaked field that appeared to favor its style of play.
The Midshipmen (5-3) exhausted the Pirates defense as they ran for 512 yards and six touchdowns.
Navy averaged 7.4 yards per rushing attempt and crossed the end zone on eight of the teams nine possessions to keep East Carolina (5-4) from obtaining its coveted sixth win of the season.
We thought we prepared well, Pirates head coach Ruffin McNeill said. Their perimeter game hurt us more than anything. They did a good job executing their offense.
The loss was reminiscent of the last time Navy visited Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in 2010, when it powered past the Pirates 76-35 and set a stadium record with 521 rushing yards.
On Saturday, true freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds looked nothing of the sort as he exhibited tremendous command of Navys triple-option offense and ran for 81 yards and three touchdowns, while completing three of his five passes for 51 yards and two touchdowns.
Hes very talented, we knew that coming into the game, McNeill said of Reynolds. Hes got athleticism and hes quick and smart and makes great decisions.
Reynolds pitched the ball with perfection as he routinely dished to slotback Gee Gee Greene, who exploited ECUs edge defense for a game-high 131 yards on 14 attempts.
The Pirates were led by junior Vintavious Cooper, who rushed for 124 yards and one score on 18 carries. ECU sophomore quarterback Shane Carden struggled against Navys zone heavy defense and completed 19 of his 29 pass attempts for 194 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
We knew that they like to drop off and not let any big plays happen, Carden said. You kind of got to take what they give and at times we did that great. Obviously we could have played better tonight and I could have played better tonight.
Navy took a14-0 lead after a Marcus Thomas 17-yard touchdown was followed by a Noah Copeland 5-yard run off the left guard that put the Mids up two scores at the 4:24 mark in the first.
ECU answered in the second quarter when it rode the back of Cooper until Carden connected with sophomore standout WR Justin Hardy (6-31) in the back right portion of the end zone from 9 yards out.
Momentum temporarily swung the Pirates way as safety Chip Thompson thwarted a Navy scoring opportunity as he picked off Reynolds in the end zone and brought it out 4 yards before being tackled.
That pick set up an ECU 10-play, 96-yard drive that ended with a Reggie Bullock 2-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14-14 with 6:55 left in the first half.
From that point, it was all Midshipmen as they scored four unanswered touchdowns and took a 42-14 lead when Reynolds crossed the goal line from a yard away at the 2:35 mark in the third.