Senior running back Reggie Bullock
Oct. 27, 2012
By Bill Woodward
GREENVILLE, N.C. - After a wet and dreary game in which East Carolina could never solve Navy's triple-option offense, Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill summed things up pretty well in his post-game comments.
"They did a good job of executing their offense," McNeill said. "I'm glad that game is over."
The Midshipmen ran the option attack to near perfection, scoring on all but one of their possessions until they took a knee to end a 56-28 non-conference victory at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
A steady rain that was the beginning of the effects of Hurricane Sandy got harder as the game progressed, but the Midshipmen kept eating up big chunks of yardage with their run-oriented attack.
Navy (5-3), which won its fourth straight game, rushed for 512 yards - averaging 7.4 yards per rush. The visitors piled up 32 first downs and pulled away from a 21-14 halftime advantage with a game-deciding stretch early in the third quarter.
Navy took the second-half kickoff and drove 75 yards in 10 plays, all on the ground. Then after Lance Ray fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff, which Navy recovered, the Midshipmen needed only four plays to cover 29 yards. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds threw one of his two touchdown passes, a 15-yarder to Casey Bolen, to make it 35-14.
"At halftime, I thought we were in good shape," McNeill said. "Coming out on that first drive (and giving up a Navy touchdown) and then the turnover on the kickoff. That hurt us."
East Carolina (5-4) had already rallied once in the game, coming back from a 14-0 deficit to tie the score at 14-14.
Shane Carden found Justin Hardy for a 9-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second quarter to cut the Navy lead to 14-7. Then after Chip Thompson intercepted a Reynolds pass in the end zone, the Pirates drove 96 yards in 10 plays to tie the score.
Reggie Bullock scored the touchdown on a 2-yard run and the point-after made it 14-14.
But the Pirates simply could not stop the Midshipmen. After the interception, Navy scored a touchdown on every possession until its final time with the ball when it took a knee to run out the final seconds.
The 512 yards on the ground were the third most ever allowed by ECU - behind 536 gained by West Virginia in 2002 and 521 by Navy in 2010 in a 76-35 Midshipmen victory.
"They did a great job executing their offense," McNeill said. "We had to be able to attack a block, get off the block and make the tackle. When you play a team like this, very rarely do you have a free runner. Most plays, you have to defeat a blocker and get off. We probably could have attacked the perimeter better with our support people."
East Carolina had its bright spots, however.
Junior running back Vintavious Cooper rushed for 121 yards with a touchdown and averaged 6.7 yards per carry, continuing to be the Pirates' go-to back.
"He has been very solid for us," McNeill said. "Great vision. He played well. He does a great job of getting yards after the first contact. He really made a statement of what kind of guy he is."
For Cooper, it was about the overall result, not his yards.
"It's still a loss," he said. "Individually, it may have been a good game. But overall, we took an `L' and that is unacceptable.
"The way we played tonight doesn't really reflect how good we are as a team. We have to find ourselves as a team after this. We want to work as hard as possible the rest of the season to cement what could be a conference championship."
The Pirates are second in the East Division of Conference USA with a 4-1 league record. And they remain one win away from becoming bowl-eligible for the sixth time in seven seasons.
McNeill said the Pirates will quickly turn their focus to next week's 12 noon home game against Houston.
"We won't linger long on this one," McNeill said. "We've got to get ready for Houston."
After Navy's nearly unstoppable offensive performance on Saturday night, that is no doubt the best option for the Pirates.