BALTIMORE – Quarterback Keenan Reynolds added to his growing legacy and coach Ken Niumatalolo reached a major milestone as Navy continued its dominance over archrival Army on Saturday.
Reynolds accounted for 177 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns as Navy overcame a slow start offensively to beat Army, 17-10, before an announced crowd of 70,935 at M&T Bank Stadium. Inside linebacker Jordan Drake led a dominating defensive effort for the Midshipmen, who did not allow the Black Knights to score an offensive touchdown.
In the process of defeating Army for the 13th straight year, Navy made Niumatalolo the winningest coach in program history. Niumatalolo has led the Midshipmen to 56 victories in seven seasons, surpassing George Welsh (55-46-1, 1973-1981) to stand alone.
"It doesn't get much better than that. That's two amazing things in one day, continuing the streak and also making (Niumatalolo) the all-time winningest coach in Navy history," Reynolds said. "What better way to get him that record than to beat Army? It's pretty sweet."
Following the Army alma mater, Navy defensive ends Will Anthony and Paul Quessenberry lifted Niumatalolo onto their shoulders and carried him across the field for the playing of the Navy Blue and Gold.
"I tried to get down because I have so much respect for Army and I didn't want to upstage anybody," Niumatalolo said of the victory ride. "I just feel very fortunate. We've had a lot of great players over the years, a lot of great coaches. It's just very surreal right now."
Reynolds rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and completed 6 of 8 passes for 77 yards and another score. Fullback Chris Swain added 47 yards rushing for the Midshipmen, who improved their record to 7-5 heading into the Dec. 23 Poinsettia Bowl.
"I couldn't be more proud of a group of seniors. For them to finish 4-0 against Army is a great accomplishment," Niumatalolo said. "Our approach is to not talk about the streak. Our thoughts have always been focused on the preparation for this game. It's a heck of a run and you have to tip your hat to all the players that came before."
Drake recorded 11 tackles and a sack to lead the defense, which stiffened repeatedly in its own territory. Army scored a touchdown off a blocked punt and later added a field goal, but never threatened the end zone on offense.
"Hats off to the defense because they really held us up during the first half," Reynolds said.
Navy went three-and-out on its first possession and had to punt from deep in its own territory. Army coach Jeff Monken sensed it was a good opportunity to go for the block and sent everybody. It appeared that Josh Jenkins jumped offside, but there was no call and the sophomore standout was on top of punter Pablo Beltran as he fielded the snap.
It was the first blocked punt of Beltran's career as Jenkins easily smothered his attempt. Sophomore wide receiver Xavier Moss grabbed the loose ball on the bounce and waltzed into the end zone with a 7-yard return for touchdown.
"You don't win too many games when you get a punt blocked for a touchdown," Niumatalolo said. "I'm very proud of the way our guys bounced back."
Navy's offense struggled mightily for most of the first half, punting on four straight possessions to start the game. The Midshipmen did not pick up a first down until midway through the second quarter.
"They did what we expected them to do. We were just shooting ourselves in the foot," Reynolds said. "Army was very opportunistic as far as rallying to the ball and getting penetration, but we did a poor job of executing on offense."
The defense kept Navy in the game as several promising Army drives were snuffed out. The Black Knights reached the Navy 40-yard line, but Drake sacked quarterback Angel Santiago for a 10-yard loss on third down.
On its subsequent possession, Army advanced to the Navy 30-yard line and faced fourth-and-1. Santiago got the first down on a quarterback sneak, but Niumatalolo had called timeout before the ball was snapped.
"That was just a feeling that came from inside," Niumatalolo said of the fortuitous timeout. "I had some spiritual thoughts and I know who was talking to me."
Army tried the same play again and this time Navy stuffed Santiago with Paul Quessenberry getting credit for the tackle. That proved a big momentum change as the Midshipmen proceeded to march 70 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at 7.
Reynolds completed a 39-yard pass down the middle to wide receiver Jamir Tillman, who leaped to snare the ball then broke a couple tackles in picking up about 12 yards after the catch. Those two hooked up again to cap the drive with Reynolds rolling right and firing a low strike through a tight window to a sliding Tillman in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown toss.
"They were crowding the box. They were all up there," Niumatalolo said of the fact Army had all 11 defenders up near the line of scrimmage. "We had to throw the ball to loosen them up. When we did, it allowed us to get things going on the ground."
Navy got the ball to start the second half and drove all the way to the Army 18-yard line before stalling. The Mids settled for a career-long 45-yard field goal by Austin Grebe to increase their lead to 10-7.
Army got into field goal position on the ensuing possession, but kicker Daniel Grochowski pulled his 49-yard attempt wide left.
Navy then followed that with the type of punishing, time-consuming drive for which it has become famous. Reynolds broke a 17-yard run to jump-start things and the Mids converted four times on third down in methodically marching 69 yards and taking almost eight minutes off the clock.
Swain ran over several defenders in barreling up the middle for 11 yards to set up first-and-goal and Reynolds dived over from 1 yard to put Navy ahead 17-7 at the 12:07 mark of the fourth quarter.
Army attempted to answer, but backup quarterback A.J. Schurr fumbled at the Navy 38-yard line. Schurr, who was in the game because Santiago injured a foot, tried to change direction on an option keeper and got blindsided by Quessenberry. Fellow end Will Anthony recovered the fumble, marking the third time the Black Knights came up empty in enemy territory.
Navy was in field goal range when Reynolds committed his only major mistake of the game, fumbling a snap at the Army 21-yard line. Senior defensive lineman Joe Drummond recovered to give the Black Knights some life.
"I'm going to take the blame for that. I probably pulled out early," Reynolds said. "It was a crucial moment, but we trusted our defense to get a stop."
Niumatalolo admitted afterward that he couldn't believe the Mids fumbled at a time when they were about to put the game away.
"That's what we do best – put the ball in number nineteen's hands, kill the clock, chew up yards," Niumatalolo. "When we fumbled I was like 'Are you kidding?' "
Army had another drive into Navy territory come up short, but this time Grochowski made a booming 52-yard field goal into the wind. That pulled the Black Knights within a touchdown at 17-10 with 1:51 left.
Latest College Football
Army was forced to try an onside kick and Navy wide receiver Thomas Wilson made the play that sealed the game – leaping high in the air to snare a big bounce and holding on despite absorbing a hard hit to the body.