- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 3, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — The quarterback missed wide open receivers, so they stopped passing the ball. An option pitch was batted down so that portion of the playbook was scrapped.

Navy still managed to churn out 403 rushing yards and hang on for a 28-23 win yesterday in its season opener against East Carolina in front of 33,809 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The Midshipmen ran 42 plays in the second half, and all but two were rushes. When the Mids took possession of the ball up 21-17 with 30 seconds left in the third quarter, Navy embarked on a 16-play, 93-yard drive for the decisive score.

All 16 plays were on the ground, and 12 were by either senior quarterback Brian Hampton or junior fullback Adam Ballard. Hampton called his own number on all 10 plays in the final drive of the game.

“You have to give the offensive line some credit. Basically we played the game in a phone booth,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “We were having a hard time throwing it. Once they batted the pitch down, I wasn’t sold on letting him do that again. It kind of became an inside game.”

Hampton completed only two of six passes for 6 yards in his first start, and he missed a pair of potential touchdowns on long incompletions. He did rush for 149 yards on 34 carries, the most on the ground by a Navy quarterback since Aaron Polanco piled up 179 against Rice on Oct. 23, 2004.

“I would rate that about a 50 [out of 100],” Hampton said. “Really it wasn’t very good. I didn’t execute very well. Luckily I had my line there to make me look good.”

After junior slotback Reggie Campbell capped that 16-play march with a 3-yard touchdown run to put the Mids up by 11, East Carolina came right back with a scoring drive. Quarterback James Pinkney found wideout Steven Rogers for the two-point conversion, but Rogers had stepped out of bounds.

Because of a personal foul on Navy, the Pirates had another chance but Pinkney’s pass fell incomplete. East Carolina also had two cracks at the onside kick because of an inadvertent whistle, but Navy slotback Byron McCoy fell on the second attempt and the Mids ran out the clock.

Navy’s defense had trouble stopping Pinkney and the Pirates passing attack in the first half. He completed 15 of 19 attempts in the half, and East Carolina appeared set to take a 14-7 lead to the break, but senior cornerback Jeremy McGown recovered a fumble at the Pirates’ 19-yard line. Three Hampton rushes later and the score was knotted 14-14.

Twice the Mids had a chance to extend their lead in the third quarter before Campbell finally scored. Senior fullback Matt Hall fumbled at the East Carolina 19. Then after a stop, Hampton’s option pitch on the first play of the next drive was batted down and recovered by East Carolina linebacker Van Eskridge.

Again the defense made a stand and set up the game-winning drive.

“It was a little rough out there at times,” senior defensive end John Chan said. “They weren’t really able to run the ball on us. … Luckily, the offense was able to score when we needed it and the defense got stops when we had to.”

“Certainly we are going to have to make improvements from this game forward if we are going to be as successful as we would like,” Johnson said. “Like I told the team in the locker room, 28 is more than 23 … I doubt they’ll be showing that one on ESPN Classic.”

Notes — Senior slotback Eddie Martin carried the U.S. flag and led the Mids onto the field before the game. Martin was diagnosed with lymphoma during the early stages of fall practice. The rest of the players are wearing a No. 32 sticker on the backs of their helmets for Martin, who has attended a few practices since he started treatment. … For the 11th time in 12 games, the Mids scored on their first possession of the second half … The 6 passing yards allowed by East Carolina were the fewest since yielding 0 yards on Nov. 1, 1969 against Furman.

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