Quarterback Holton Ahlers and East Carolina will aim to start their conference schedule on a positive note when Navy visits Greenville, N.C., on Saturday afternoon.
East Carolina (2-1) has been humming after a heartbreaking one-point home loss to then-ranked No. 13 NC State in Week 1. The Pirates beat Old Dominion 39-21 before last week’s 49-10 romp over Campbell, an in-state opponent from the FCS.
Ahlers threw for three touchdowns last week and is already up to 800 yards and seven TDs on the season while completing 67 percent of his passes. Earlier this season, Ahlers became the American Athletic Conference’s all-time career leader in completions with 879.
The fifth-year quarterback has been a part of several East Carolina-Navy games before. The Midshipmen lead the all-time series 7-2, but ECU broke a five-game skid last year with a 38-35 win in Annapolis, Md. Ahlers racked up 405 yards and three touchdowns on 27-of-32 passing, outscoring a Navy attack that gained 345 rushing yards.
“He looks like an NFL quarterback,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “You don’t realize how big he is (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) until you see him on the field. He’s bigger than our outside linebackers. He’s a big dude, smart, composed. … I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a shot on Sundays. He’s got all the tools.”
Navy (0-2, 0-1 AAC) is coming off a bye week after a 14-7 loss to FCS Delaware and a 37-13 setback to Memphis, both at home. Only one team, New Mexico State, has had a worse scoring offense in all of FBS than the Mids’ 10 points per game this season.
But like every coach in the conference, ECU’s Mike Houston has spent extra time scheming against Navy’s triple-option offense — increasingly a rarity in FBS football.
Houston said longtime assistant Roy Tesh, currently the Pirates’ defensive tackles coach, has experience coaching against the triple when they ran it at previous stops together, including The Citadel of FCS.
“I think that’s what we hang our hat on, is being a physical football team,” Houston said. “But that’s what Navy hangs their hat on too. … Ken very much believes in a lot of the same things I believe in as far as how you win consistently.”