Holding Ohio State to a pair of first-half field goals, Navy took a 7-6 lead into halftime before a pro-Buckeye crowd of over 60,000 at M&T Bank Stadium.
After Ohio State took a 3-0 lead on a 46-yard field goal by freshman placekicker Sean Nuernberger with 4:26 left in the opening quarter, the Midshipmen started what turned into an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
The drive was highlighted by a 17-yard pass from junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds to freshman wideout Brandon Colon on second-and-13 from the Ohio State 43 after a rare motion penalty against the Midshipmen.
Navy eventually moved down to the Ohio State 3-yard line, but the Buckeyes’ impressive defensive line stopped Reynolds on three straight runs. On fourth down, Reynolds pitched wide to sophomre slotback DeBrandon Sanders, who managed to reach the ball over the pylon before being driven out of bounds.
It looked as if the Buckeyes were going to move ahead, but after driving easily from their own 25 to the Navy 8-yard line, redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett was pressured into an interception by senior free safety Parrish Gaines.
The Midshipmen continued to play their bend-but-not-break defense. After the Buckeyes got the ball again inside the 10-yard line, Barrett was forced to hang onto the ball and pitched late to tailback Ezekiel Elliott, who was dropped for a 7-yard loss by linebacker Chris Johnson.
Johnson finished the half with eight tackles, including a sack, two shy of his career-high for tackles.
Navy had a chance to add to its lead in the final seconds. After moving from its own 35 to the Ohio State 18, but junior kicker Nick Sloan missed wide right on a 36-yard attempt with five seconds left.
The Midshipmen rushed for 138 yards on 29 carries in the opening half, including 56 by Reynolds on 14 carries. Ohio State picked up only 66 yards rushing on 19 carries against Navy.
Barrett, playing after Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller was lost for the season with a recent shoulder injury, completed 8 of 11 passes for 96 yards. But the Midshipmen showed they could get to Barrett despite a huge weight differential.