Navy defensive end Will Anthony was reflecting on last year’s loss to Air Force this past week when he stepped away to collect his thoughts, not wanting to provide bulletin board material heading into the rematch.
“I have to watch my words,” he said.
The senior’s play instead spoke volumes during a redemptive 33-11 victory on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in which an inspired defense collected four turnovers and didn’t allow a point until late in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who happens to be Anthony’s roommate, directed six scoring drives to push the Midshipmen to their eighth win in a row dating from last season and a 4-0 record for the first time since 2004.
Navy won the first leg of the competition for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy signifying service academy football supremacy. The winner of the Navy-Air Force game has won the trophy in each of the last 18 years, with Army not having won it since 1996. The Midshipmen can reclaim the CIC hardware after a one-year absence by beating Army on Dec. 12 in Philadelphia.
Anthony forced a pair of fumbles and Reynolds improved to 6-1 in service academy games by rushing for 183 yards on 24 carries in front of an announced crowd of 32,705. The Midshipmen built a three-touchdown cushion by halftime and all but secured the outcome with Austin Grebe’s 37-yard field goal for a 30-11 advantage with eight minutes left.
“William Anthony epitomizes who we want to be as a football program,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “If we could go find somebody in the United States of America, we’re looking for William Anthony. He’s a good student, the most humble kid. When you see this kid, he’s the nicest kid, but he’s tough as nails. He’s a warrior. He represents our school and our country well.”
It was Navy’s largest margin of victory in the series since 1978, with its first points coming after a defensive stand that forced Air Force (2-2) into three plays and a punt. Fullback Chris Swain scored the first of his two touchdowns on a two-yard run 4 minutes 55 seconds into the first quarter to end the opening drive in which Reynolds (300 total yards) broke loose for a 54 yards on the first snap.
The first turnover came when Air Force running back Jacobi Owens fumbled a high pitch from quarterback Karson Roberts. Senior safety Kwanzel Bertrand, who was carted off the field in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury, recovered at the Navy 36, and the Midshipmen marched into Falcons territory courtesy of a 26-yard pass from Reynolds to slot back DeBrandon Sanders on third and nine.
On the second snap of the second quarter, Reynolds delivered a 27-yard pass to wide receiver Thomas Wilson for a touchdown. One play earlier, Reynolds also threw to Wilson, but an Air Force defender knocked the ball away as the senior reached to make the catch while falling backward into the end zone.
“This week has been a very intense week,” said Reynolds, who played with a hurt knee in last year’s 30-21 loss in Colorado Springs. “It’s an awesome feeling to win at home, but our motto is 1-0, so we just try to approach the game just like another other game. There’s a lot of pageantry that surrounds the game, but at the end of the day it’s still football.”
Anthony forced another fumble when he got into the backfield to foil an exchange between Roberts and fullback D.J. Johnson. Bertrand fell on the loose ball, and the Midshipmen took over at their 16-yard line with 9:34 left in the second quarter. But Navy couldn’t convert that turnover or Brendon Clements’s interception on the Falcons’ ensuing series into points.
That changed, though, following a fumble recovery by Navy linebacker D.J. Palmore at the Midshipmen 32-yard line. It was the fourth consecutive possession in which Air Force committed a turnover, all in Navy territory, and this time the Midshipmen responded with Demond Brown’s one-yard touchdown run on a pitch to the right side for a 21-0 lead with 2:58 to play until the break.
“We let everyone on the team down last year,” Navy senior nose guard and co-captain Bernie Sarra said. “It just felt good to get back out there today, have another shot. We just lined up, took it to them. Thankfully we came out with a ‘W.’ ”