Annapolis, Md. —
Against Navy's triple-option offense, FAU's plan was simple — make the Midshipmen throw the ball.
Navy freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds had the game of his career, passing for two touchdowns and rushing for another, amassing 306 yards of total offense in Navy's 24-17 win over the Owls Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Reynolds and the Midshipmen scored 24 unanswered points in the second and third quarters to erase an early 10-0 FAU lead, leaving FAU chasing in the fourth quarter for the second-straight game.
"Navy was making plays," FAU coach Carl Pelini said after the game. "We've seen signs of [Reynolds' passing ability]. It's hard. You get all your [defensive backs] geared up... it's hard to change gears. We haven't been in coverage like that all week. We saw on film, and you always know it could happen in a game like his, and it did."
Even with Reynolds' fantastic performance, FAU had a chance to win late. Down 24-17, FAU drove inside the Navy 25-yard line inside the final five minutes of regulation. The tying touchdown seemed inevitable for quarterback Graham Wilbert and the in-rhythm FAU offense until a penalty and disputed catch on the sidelines stunted FAU's momentum.
Pelini had been preaching discipline all week, but a false start by left tackle DeAndre Williams came at the worst possible time — a critical third-and-6. The penalty made the play third-and-long and forced FAU to pass. Wilbert found Jensen Stoshak on the left sideline, but the freshman receiver was ruled out of bounds. The ruling was disputable — it gave FAU assistant coach Jeff Simms a conniption on the sidelines — but Pelini didn't call timeout, which would have forced the replay officials to review the play.
Pelini knew that the ruling would have stood. He saw his receiver bobble the ball, and as Stoshak came to the sideline, he told his coach that he didn't have possession.
The Owls snapped the ball on fourth down in an uncertain fate — many on the team waiting for a whistle. Sure enough, the FAU offensive line broke down against a Navy blitz and Wilbert's desperation shovel pass to Jonathan Wallace fell behind the running back. Navy had no problem in running out the clock after regaining possession.
"You can't say we don't have exciting games," Pelini joked. "We felt like we could win this game... I just wish we would have executed better."
The loss spoiled the best game of Wallace's FAU career. Wallace, who has battled for carries all season, was the undisputed man for the staring running back job on Saturday, rushing for a career-high 111 yards and two touchdowns.
"I feel like if I don't give 100 percent every time, someone is going to come in and take my spot," Wallace, who scored on rushes of 1 and 3 yards, said.
FAU had another stellar start, scoring the first touchdown of the game for the third consecutive week. The FAU defense matched the offense, holding Navy to 16 yards of total offense in the first quarter.
But as the Navy offense began to run the ball to the outside and spread the FAU defense with big-gain passing from Reynolds, control of the game turned the home team. Wallace's second touchdown pulled FAU within a score with nine minutes remaining, but the Owls came up 22 yards short of the victory.
"I think if I had said coming into his season that we were going to come to Navy and bring this game down to the wire, you would have told me I was crazy," Pelini said.
With the loss, FAU was denied it's first winning streak in two years. Navy extended its winning streak to five games with the win. The Mids victory clinched them berth in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the team's ninth bowl in the last decade.