GREENVILLE, N.C. — Another virtuoso performance from Will Worth had the senior quarterback continuing to etch his name among the greatest in Navy history and left the shorthanded Midshipmen celebrating a program milestone.
Behind 159 rushing yards and four touchdowns, Worth directed a 66-31 win against East Carolina on Saturday, securing Navy’s first American Athletic Conference West Division title. The Midshipmen will play for the AAC championship on Dec. 3 — one week before the final regular season game against Army — in just their second year in a conference after 134 as an independent.
“We’ve been playing for this for a long time,” Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Our goal was to be in the championship game, and so it’s not like, ‘Oh, crap, we’ve got to adjust things.’ We’ve been planning on being in that game and we’ve been preparing for this.”
Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) scored 38 straight points to rally from a 10-point deficit with 10:12 remaining in the second quarter. Two of Worth’s touchdowns came during that stretch, and he added a total of 113 passing yards, completing 3 of 5 attempts, before exiting the game with 9:51 left in the fourth quarter at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Worth has scored a touchdown in 10 consecutive games, trailing only Keenan Reynolds for the longest streak in school history. His sixth consecutive game of 100 rushing yards moved him into a tie for second with, among others, Napoleon McCallum. His seven games with 100 yards are one short of matching Reynolds, McCallum and Eddie Meyers for the single-season program record.
Worth has 22 rushing touchdowns this season, moving ahead of Lamar Jackson, a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, for first in major college football. Worth, a third-stringer last season whose primary responsibility was as the holder on field goals and point-after attempts, trailed the Louisville quarterback by one touchdown entering the game.
“That’s a pretty neat deal,” said Worth, who carried 28 times. “Haven’t really thought about it all. I’m more worried about getting the conference championship.”
Fullback Shawn White added 150 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries as part of a triple option attack that amassed 593 yards of total offense, including 480 rushing. In front of an announced crowd of 39,480, the Midshipmen reached a season-high point total in winning for a fifth time in six games.
Navy claimed the lead for good when it went ahead 21-17 on White’s 41-yard run up the middle on second and two with 6:12 left in the second quarter. The touchdown came two snaps after the Midshipmen held East Carolina to three plays and a punt for the first time in the game, the start of three such stands in a row heading into the break despite missing three starting linebackers.
The lead expanded to 28-17 shortly after White’s first scored when Navy got the ball back at the East Carolina 49. The drive ended with White scoring again, this time from seven yards out with 2:56 to go in the half. The first play of the series featured Worth completing a 30-yard pass to senior wide receiver Jamir Tillman.
Place kicker Bennett Moehring’s 29-yard field goal in the closing seconds provided the Midshipmen with a 31-17 halftime lead. Navy had an opportunity for a touchdown on third and one from the 6, but slotback Calvin Cass slipped while open in the front of the end zone before the ball arrived from Worth.
“We’re excited, but we’re not done,” White said. “We’re going to take it and celebrate today, but come tomorrow, it’s time to get back to work.”
The Pirates (3-8, 1-6) took a 17-7 lead with 10:12 left in the first half on Davis Plowman’s 43-yard field goal. The scoring drive featured wide receiver Zay Jones making the 388th catch of his career to set the Football Bowl Subdivision record, passing former East Carolina wide receiver Justin Hardy.
There was a ceremony on the field to recognize the accomplishment, but soon after Navy began to pull away.
After a 35-yard return by Dishan Romine on the ensuing kickoff, Navy went 62 yards on five plays, with Worth scoring from one yard.
“I love earning respect,” junior linebacker Micah Thomas said. “It’s kind of what we learn going through the Naval Academy. It feels good to come out West champs, to get a win over Houston, to get a win over Memphis, because our conference is so good. It feels good to get our status up I guess.”