Considering what Navy's Keenan Reynolds had done to Hawaii the week before, the South Alabama football team couldn't be blamed for focusing its defensive efforts on the sophomore quarterback Saturday. But the Jaguars forgot to account for Darius Staten.
The senior slotback had seven carries for a career-high 127 yards and one touchdown to propel the Midshipmen to a 42-14 rout before an announced 33,086 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Navy scored 32 unanswered points over the final three quarters as a defense missing three starters shut out South Alabama for nearly 40 minutes.
With the win, the Midshipmen improved to 6-4 and 5-0 at home, closing out a perfect record in Annapolis for the first time since 2004. More significantly, the team qualified for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, in which it will meet a Mountain West Conference opponent on Dec. 30 in Fort Worth, Texas.
"Just so happy for our guys, because there are so many things that are hard here," coach Ken Niumatalolo said in an emotional postgame press conference. "For them to be able to qualify for something, it's hard to win games and it's hard to win. It's just a tremendous accomplishment by our players. Just couldn't be more happy for them."
Reynolds was his usual dual-threat self. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 168 yards and one touchdown and rushed 17 times for 59 yards and another score. But South Alabama (3-6) made sure Reynolds would not replicate his performance in last week's 42-28 thrashing of the Rainbow Warriors, in which he gained a career-best 226 yards and four touchdowns on 28 runs and threw for another score.
With the Jaguars devoting a defensive end or outside linebacker to containing Reynolds, Navy found another weapon in Staten. A frequent recipient of pitches from Reynolds on option plays, he carried the ball five times for 101 yards and one touchdown in the first half. His shortest run all day was 10 yards.
Entering the game, Staten had rushed 21 times for 198 yards and two scores in eight games.
"Quite honestly, Keenan is the threat on our team, and it was smart for them to try to take Keenan out of the game," said Staten, who eclipsed his previous career high of 106 rushing yards, set in the team's season-opening 41-35 win against Indiana. "But Keenan is a brilliant person, very intelligent, and he got us in all the right plays, and I really appreciate him pitching me the ball."
Staten's showing was not lost on Reynolds. "During the game, I was like, 'Man, Darius is balling,'" Reynolds said. "He was running around all over the place."
The Midshipmen clung to a 27-14 lead late in the third quarter when South Alabama appeared likely to come back. From its own 15-yard line, the Jaguars drove 81 yards, to Navy's 4. Over 19 plays, they ate up 8:40 of game clock and converted two fourth downs, including a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from the Jaguars' 35 in which third-string quarterback Trey Fetner took a direct snap for a 13-yard gain.
But on fourth-and-2 early in the fourth quarter, junior running back Kendall Houston was stopped for a 2-yard loss by Midshipmen senior inside linebacker Cody Peterson. Navy's offense promptly took advantage, capping a seven-play, 94-yard drive with a 45-yard scoring strike from Reynolds to senior wide receiver Matt Aiken, who was 10 yards behind South Alabama's secondary.
The Midshipmen limited the Jaguars to season lows in rushing yards (120) and total offense (300 yards). The defense played without a trio of starters in junior safety Chris Ferguson (head), sophomore cornerback Kwazel Bertrand (head) and sophomore nose guard Bernard Sarra (ankle).
"We just gave them 14 points in the first half, and we just came out with a different attitude," junior defensive end Paul Quessenberry said. "We just flew around the football and made some stops."
Notes: Navy gained 351 yards on the ground, marking the third consecutive game in which the offense reached the 300-yard mark. The Midshipmen last rushed for at least 300 yards in three straight contests in 2010. … Reynolds' 19th rushing touchdown of the year leaves him one shy of second on the single-season list for running scores. Chris McCoy had 20 rushing touchdowns in 1997. … Niumatalolo won his 46th game as Navy's head coach, breaking a tie with Paul Johnson for third place on the program's career wins list. Niumatalolo, who is 46-30 in six seasons, trails Eddie Erdelatz (1950-58), who was 50-26-8 overall. … The average home attendance this fall was 35,588, which surpassed the previous school record of 34,775 set in 2007.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun