By Don Markus
The Baltimore Sun
9:06 PM EST, December 8, 2012
A half-century after a Navy quarterback launched his legend here with a win over Army, another might have done the same Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Showing why some have begun mentioning his name in the same paragraph, if not the same sentence, as the legendary Roger Staubach, freshman Keenan Reynolds displayed the poise -- and strong right arm -- that helped turn around Navy's season.
Reynolds led the Midshipmen back from a rare fourth-quarter deficit against their service academy rivals, leading Navy on a late 80-yard drive and scored what turned out to be the winning touchdown in a 17-13 victory before 69,607 -- including Staubach.
An 8-yard touchdown run by Reynolds with 4:41 remaining -- a play set up by a 49-yard pass from Reynolds to senior wide receiver Brandon Turner and an earlier 11-yard run by Reynolds -- helped give Navy (8-4) its 11th straight win over Army (2-10).
It was the closest margin of victory during the current streak.
The victory that would bring the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy back to Annapolis for the first time since 2009 wasn't secured until the Black Knights, after driving from their own 12 to the Navy 14, lost a fumble on a botched handoff between quarterback Trent Steelman and fullback Larry Dixon with a little over a minute left.
"It means everything," Niumatalolo said after his fifth straight win over Army as Navy's head coach. "To get your number one goal to start the season. To know that all the hard work, all the running that these guys did in the summer, all the lifting and the stretching ... I'm just so happy for these guys."
Asked what it meant to come through for his team, the typically humble Reynolds said: "I would say the feeling for me is minimal. I feel more for the guys around me. It's not about making myself feel good. I feel for the seniors who work so hard to get here. I play for them, for the love of my brothers."
It wasn't easy.
Navy's 7-0 lead on a 12-yard touchdown by sophomore fullback Noah Copeland in the second quarter quickly became a 7-7 tie on an 11-yard touchdown run by Steelman. Normally reliable Gee Gee Greene dropped an apparent 36-yard touchdown pass and the Midshipmen had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Nick Sloan to take a 10-7 lead.
A pair of field goals from Army kicker Eric Osteen -- a senior who had just taken over the field-goal duties in the team's last regular season game -- helped give the Black Knights a 13-10 lead with 3:36 left in the third quarter, their latest lead at any point in the 10-year losing streak. A pair of uncharacteristic 15-yard penalties by Navy had contributed to the scoring drives.
But just as he did in the fourth quarter and overtime in Navy's 28-21 win at Air Force in early October, after replacing injured junior Trey Miller with less than 9 minutes left in regulation and the Midshipmen down by eight points, Reynolds made three huge plays in the game-winning drive.
It didn't come as a surprise to Niumatalolo.
"If he could come in the Air Force game at their place and have clear eyes and not miss a beat, and not seem nervous, I don't know if he could be in a tougher situation," Niumatalolo said. "I don't really say much to Keenan, because the kid knows what he's doing."
What turned out to be the winning drive didn't start so well, with Copeland gaining the last two of his team-high 99 yards and senior slotback Bo Snelson dropping a low pass in the flat. But Reynolds hit reserve slotback Geoffrey Whiteside for a 10-yard gain and later avoided a rush for an 11-yard gain down the sideline to the Navy 43.
It was then that Turner, after pleading with offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper "that I can beat this guy" broke down the same sideline and found himself jockeying for position with Army freshman cornerback Chris Carnegie around the 10-yard line. The ball was placed perfectly for the 6-foot-4 Turner to outjump the 6-foot Carnegie for the ball.
"I'll let you guys in on a secret, I literally did nothing on that catch, I just ran to the ball," Turner said. "I just put out my hands and the ball found my hands. It's so nice to have a quarterback like Keenan who can just put it on you, especially in pressure positions."
Reynolds' late heroics would have meant little had it not been for Army's fumble. It came after the nation's leading rushing offense had already gouged the Midshipmen for 370 yards -- 158 by junior tailback Raymond Maples, who grew up in West Philadelphia. Army fans were ready to celebrate the team's first Commander-in-Chief's Trophy since 1996.
Then came the fumble, when Dixon couldn't hold onto a handoff from Steelman.
Army's unquestioned leader took the blame.
"I'm putting this one on me ... It's just unfortunate, I just don't know how else to put it," said Steelman, who added to his career record for touchdowns (45) and tied the school's single-season rushing touchdown mark (17) but added to four years of frustration against Navy. "I felt like we deserved that game in every way possible, but it just didn't happen."
Asked if he felt more empathy for Army than any other opponent Navy beats, Midshipmen senior linebacker Keegan Wetzel said: "I don't know if I'd use the word empathy, just because you come into this game and you know every game is going to be a fight at the Division I level. Nobody's going to give you anything. I know those guys fight as hard or harder than any team we play."
The difference in the outcome was Reynolds, who has now won six of his seven starts with many more to come.
"His legacy will be, will he stay hungry and humble?" Niumatalolo said. "If he can do those two things, the kid will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks we've ever had here."
One certainly comes immediately to mind.
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