The shutdown has been felt on campus, as the academy’s civilian instructors have been furloughed, but many members of the team went to empty classrooms and studied. In some ways, it was all they could do to try to maintain a routine amid a week that was anything but.
“I think at the Naval Academy we deal with a lot of obstacles like this,” said Matt Aiken, a senior wide receiver and co-captain. “Stuff’s going to come up here and there, and it’s something we just have to overcome.”
So when Navy’s coaches and players received word late Wednesday night that the Department of Defense had given the green light for the game to proceed, the feeling wasn’t as much elation as relief that the Midshipmen (2-1) would be able to begin defense of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy as planned.
The potential postponement was among the many distractions leading up to what Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk has been calling one of the most significant “event statements” in the history of the academy.
Gladchuk was referring to much more than simply the record attendance expected at sold-out Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, which seats 38,000, or the $4 million the Naval Academy Athletic Association stands to gain from the game.
The school also is welcoming 200 recruits and their families from around the country and is honoring the 1963 Cotton Bowl team, including Heisman Trophy quarterback Roger Staubach. On top of that, Navy is hosting the academy’s most generous donors.
“The game is still the football game, and there’s so much hype to this game and the Army game that there’s enough pressure coming from other sources,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I’ll let Chet and the administration talk about the other things, the marketing, and deal with the other things, but our only focus is football.”
This week, that meant keeping a watchful eye on Reynolds, who departed last Saturday’s 19-7 loss at Western Kentucky shortly before halftime following a blow to the helmet. The sophomore watched the second half from the sideline wearing sunglasses with a towel draped around his neck.
The offense sputtered without Reynolds. Junior backup John Hendrick was pressed into duty with little preparation, and the result was Navy’s lowest totals for yards and points this season.
Reynolds practiced fully Wednesday, with Niumatalolo proclaiming the second-year starter “100 percent.”
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m getting ready to go play Saturday,” Reynolds said. “I’m excited and ready to go because like Coach said, this game pretty much has defined out season for the last couple of years.”
Last year’s 28-21 overtime triumph over Air Force in Colorado Springs certainly was the defining game to this point in Reynolds’s budding career. With Navy trailing by eight points with 9 minutes 3 seconds left in regulation, Reynolds entered for an ailing Trey Miller and scored the tying touchdown at 6:35 to force overtime.
In the extra session, Navy guard Jake Zuzek recovered a loose ball in the end zone following a fumbled exchange between Reynolds and center Tanner Flemming. The defense held on Air Force’s ensuing possession, triggering a wild celebration on the Navy sideline at Falcon Stadium.
Last week, Air Force quarterback Karson Roberts bore resemblance to Reynolds in his first game. The sophomore, making the first start of his career, rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-42 loss to Nevada. Roberts is the third quarterback to play for the Falcons (1-4) in five games this season.
“They’ve scored with some pretty prolific offenses,” Niumatalolo said. “Our approach to this game is we know it’s Air Force, and every year that we’ve played them it’s always a dogfight, it’s always a battle, so I don’t see anything differently when I turn on the tape.”