For the most part, Navy's turnovers were canceled out by ECU's turnovers and ECU's third-down success was canceled out by Navy's ball control.
In the end, I think Navy won because two key plays went its way. The two-point conversion was huge. ECU's place kicker is legit; with the wind at his back, I bet Holtz would have been comfortable using him from at least 50 yards, if not 55. So the difference between 28-25 (where a field goal ties the game) and 28-23 was incredible.
(Big props to Keenan Little for defending that second conversion pass so well.)
The other key play was the onside kick (or kicks). I am not positive ECU would have scored a touchdown even if they had recovered, but I think most Navy fans are glad they didn't have to find out.
The best news for Navy certainly was winning the game. But the next-best news might have been that the Mids didn't have to use much of the playbook to win.
Navy ran the ball, by my count, on its final 35 plays. Unofficially, it didn't attempt a pass over the final 22 minutes.
Its longest run was 26 yards, from Ballard. The longest outside run I think was 19 yards. That's a huge credit to ECU's defense. On one hand, they didn't stop the inside stuff all that well. But they surrounded the ball carrier and closed to the ball really quickly.
Between that speed on defense and the mature quarterback, they may be on their way to another really good season.
As we thought, Navy used the counter option, the twirl option and the tosses to the slots to some decent effect, though they never broke a long play.
That the Mids got so many yards in the interior is a huge compliment to the offensive line, to Hampton's toughness and to Ballard's toughness and talent.
Thus, there was no real need for trick plays. Kaipo took off his wide receiver gloves, at an assistant coach's request, on the drive just before halftime. But I think the poor field position and lack of time left in the half swayed the coaches not to use a trick play.
Kaipo kept the gloves off and did some stretching in the second half but wasn't used. I don't think Goss played much either, if at all. That's just as good--no need to show U-Mass. (or Stanford, or Notre Dame) too much of what Navy's coaches may have in store for them.
It's been a trademark of Paul Johnson's tenure at Navy: Do enough to win. That's one reason I was so looking forward to the Poinsettia Bowl last year. Because it was the last game, because there were no other opponents to prepare for, I figured it meant the coaches would throw the playbook at Sonny Lubick and Co.
And did they ever.
One other thing: During pre-game warm-ups on Saturday, the only quarterbacks who took part in drills were Hampton and Kaipo. Bryant didn't get any reps. I thought in the past Navy used three quarterbacks in those drills but I may be wrong.
Final Tally: The game reminded me of a line from an article about the Nebraska-Kansas State game in 1994. The Huskers were down to their third-string quarterback and went into Manhattan, Kan., and won, 17-6, basically because Lawrence Phillips carried the ball nearly 40 times for 131 yards.
The writer said watching Nebraska win was "like watching a sleek animal escape a hunter's booby trap by gnawing off its own leg." I think Navy did kind of the same thing on Saturday.
Survive and advance.