Freshman QB's late touchdown gives Midshipmen 11th straight win vs. Black Knights
PHILADELPHIA -- Two months ago at Air Force, Keenan Reynolds saved a season. On Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, the freshman quarterback preserved Navy's most cherished streak.
Guiding an 80-yard drive with his nimble feet and accurate right arm, Reynolds delivered the Midshipmen a 17-13 come-from-behind victory over Army. It was the hardest-earned win of their 11-game streak in the storied series and returned the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy to Annapolis after a two-year hiatus.
After Reynolds ran an option around right end for an 8-yard touchdown carry with 4:41 left, Army made a determined drive, rolling 68 yards behind senior quarterback Trent Steelman.
But on a first-down play from the 14-yard line, Steelman and fullback Larry Dixon failed to execute a handoff, the ball tumbled to the turf and the unlikeliest of heroes, Navy third-string nose guard Barry Dabney, fell on it at the bottom of a pileup to clinch the victory with 64 seconds left.
"It was a routine triple option," Steelman said. "I don't really know what happened. It was a quarterback-fullback mesh, but I'm [graduating], so I'm going to put that one on me. There's no way I could put something like that on Larry."
Army (2-10) gave Navy all it could handle, outgaining the Mids 418 yards to 297, but three lost fumbles were costly. Navy had no answer for Army running back Raymond Maples (27 carries, 156 yards) or Steelman (17 carries, 96 yards), who threw only five passes but completed two for first downs on the Black Knights' final march. It was a tough way for Steelman to lose in his 46th and final college start.
Navy (8-4) meanwhile celebrated its return to the top of service academy football. When the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy was rolled from a hallway into the Navy locker room, hoots turned into a raucous roar. The Mids owed their success to Reynolds, named MVP of the game after completing 10 of 17 passes for 130 yards and rushing 15 times for 43 yards.
"If you can come into a game at Air Force down by eight in the fourth quarter with eight minutes left at their place and have clear eyes and not miss a beat and not seem nervous, I don't know if you can be in a tougher situation," Niumatalolo said. Navy was 1-3 before that victory over the Falcons, which spurred the Mids to seven wins in their last eight games.
On the winning drive, Reynolds started with a third-down completion for 10 yards to slot back Geoffrey Whiteside. Two plays later, Reynolds was chased out of his own backfield but turned the corner and tiptoed up the sideline for 11 yards and another first down.
"I told them in the huddle this is the one," Reynolds said of the scoring drive.
On the next play, Reynolds reared back and fired a perfect bomb over the shoulder of Army freshman defender Chris Carnegie and into the arms of Navy senior wideout Brandon Turner. The play covered 49 yards, setting up Reynolds' go-ahead touchdown run.
"This is the best I've ever felt after winning a football game," Turner said. "I literally did nothing on that catch. The pass was perfect."
After a scoreless first quarter, the second period was a chess match. Each time Navy scored, Army matched.
Navy forced the first turnover of the game when Maples took a swing pass and outside linebacker Jordan Drake knocked the ball loose and recovered at the Navy 35. Reynolds completed two passes for first downs, and Noah Copeland (22 carries, 99 yards) ran for another. Copeland then finished off the drive with consecutive 12-yard carries up the middle, the second producing a 7-0 lead.
Army answered with a 75-yard drive on nine plays. Steelman ignited it with an 18-yard keeper and finished it with an 11-yard option scamper untouched to tie it at 7-7.
The teams traded field goals in the final 25 seconds of the half to set the scene for a dramatic second half as Army pursued its elusive goal and Navy stubbornly refused to give up its hallowed streak.
"I feel like we deserved the game in every way possible, but it just didn't happen. We were wearing them down, and there was nothing that was going to stop us," Steelman said. "But that's life. Things don't go your way sometimes."