— Navy safety George Jamison didn't figure to be a factor on defense in the Armed Forces Bowl.
But with the first two strong safeties out of the picture before halftime, the junior special-teamer suddenly found himself in a starring role during Navy's 24-6 victory over Middle Tennessee State on Monday at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Turned out Jamison, who had played almost exclusively on special teams this season, was ready for his close-up. In barely more than a half, he recorded six total tackles, including an assist on a fourth-down stop of fullback Corey Carmichael at the Navy 6-yard line as the Midshipmen held a slim 10-6 lead.
Jamison also made his first career interception in the fourth quarter on a pass he said he saw coming toward him all the way.
"I knew I had to make something happen," he said.
Not bad for a guy who entered the game with four tackles for the season and seven in his career.
Jamison's moment came after a strange turn of events sent starting strong safety Wave Ryder and backup Lonnie Richardson to the sidelines.
Ryder was ejected with 7:41 left in the first quarter after being penalized for targeting a defenseless receiver on a controversial call.
Ryder crashed into Tavarres Jefferson a split-second after the Middle Tennessee State wide receiver caught a perfectly thrown 24-yard pass from Logan Kilgore on a post route at the Navy 7. The players' helmets made contact on the hit and Ryder was immediately flagged for a 15-yard targeting penalty, which by rule disqualified him from the game. Referee Mark Kluczynski reviewed the play and confirmed the decision.
Then late in the second quarter, Richardson collided with Middle Tennessee State's Marcus Henry on a tackle that left both players injured. Richardson was ruled out for the game with a concussion, giving Jamison his moment on stage.
"You always expect to play," Jamison said. "Football's a contact sport, so when people go down, you've got to be the next guy ready. As soon as Wave went out, I knew I was the next guy in, so I knew I needed to focus and get ready to go."
A chippy day
Middle Tennessee State's defense hoped to get Navy out of its offensive rhythm with hard hits, but the Blue Raiders often crossed the line with numerous hits after the whistle, along with some trash talk to go with it.
As a result, the Raiders were flagged for four unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties, two against linebacker Roderic Blunt. By rule, Blunt was ejected after the second call.
Blunt's most egregious foul didn't get called. While the officials didn't see it, ESPN's cameras caught Blunt reaching into Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds' facemask after he was down and poking his eye. Reynolds was forced to miss three plays while he was attended to.
"We can't really worry about different things being said or different things being done," Reynolds said. "We've just got to get up and play and stay mentally tough. … That was a mental test for us, and fortunately we were able to pass it."
Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill defended his players.
"I'm not going to back down one bit," he said. "We had something to prove. I thought our defense was very, very physical and tough. I loved how they played."
Navy was also called for an unsportsmanlike foul when Marcus Thomas reacted to a penalty on Blunt. The teams entered the game among the least penalized in the nation, combining for only six penalties per game.
Joining the club
Reynolds' first-quarter touchdown was his 30th of the season, extending his NCAA record for a quarterback.
The score also granted him membership in an exclusive club. Reynolds became only the fourth player to score 30 rushing TDs, joining Hall of Famer Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State (37 TDs in 1987), Wisconsin's Montee Ball (33 in 2011) and Colorado State's Kapri Bibbs, who scored 31 in 14 games this season.
Reynolds' touchdown in the fourth quarter tied him with Bibbs for the national lead in that category, though Bibbs' 31 scores came in 14 games while Reynolds played in 13.