The Navy football team faced a number of questions entering last weekend’s game against service academy rival Air Force, most notably how quarterback Keenan Reynolds would respond to the mild concussion he suffered in the Midshipmen’s previous game. There also was the matter of Navy’s offensive line. Guard Thomas Stone (knee) and tackle Graham Vickers (concussion) were unable to play, meaning a pair of first-time starters would have to step up.
But Navy’s triple-option attack continued to hum with Brandon Greene and E.K. Binns, both sophomores, helping pave the way. The Midshipmen amassed 273 rushing yards, including 188 in the second half, to pull away in the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, 28-10, to the delight of a record crowd of 38,225 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“You know that at any moment it could be your time to step up,” Greene said. “Players get hurt all the time. Things happen, and you’ve just always got to be prepared.”
Despite making their debuts in one of the most contentious rivalries in the country, Greene and Binns for the most part performed seamlessly when it came to following line calls, and in typical Navy style, neither committed a penalty. They’ll look to do the same Saturday afternoon, when the Midshipmen (3-1) visit Duke (3-2).
“We tried to all week kind of keep the emotion out of it because you know Saturday the emotions are going to be there,” Navy offensive line coach Ashley Ingram said. “You don’t have to get them excited for that game. I think that was the biggest thing, just prepare them to play the football game.”
Trailing by three points at halftime against Air Force, Navy rallied to take the lead for good with a signature possession to start the second half. During an eight-play touchdown drive covering 75 yards, the Midshipmen ran seven times, reaching the end zone on slotback Demond Brown’s 38-yard carry off a textbook pitch from Reynolds and impeccable blocking.
Navy’s three touchdown drives in the second half comprised 168 yards, and the offense resembled that of the first two games as opposed to the unit that sputtered in its previous game, a 19-7 loss at Western Kentucky.
“It didn’t really hit me until game day,” Binns said of starting for the first time. “I knew it was a big week, just watching years past, knowing the expectations. I just knew I had to raise my game to another level, but I’ve still got room to improve.”
Binns had drawn the attention of the coaching staff during spring practice thanks to quickness and footwork uncommon for a player his size at Navy. By the end of summer training camp, Binns had moved ahead of Stone, who played in all 13 games last season, on the depth chart, though a concussion suffered during the preseason kept him off the field.
Greene’s ascension to the tackle spot formerly held by Vickers — Navy subsequently announced that he is retiring from football because of concussions — required a bit more time after going into the spring as the backup center to Tanner Fleming. Underscoring his versatility, Greene (6 feet 3, 257) remains on the depth chart at center, although he’s dropped to third behind Blaze Ryder.
Binns and Greene “started off a little rusty there, but I was encouraged by them,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo. “They both flew around. Those guys got bright futures, both of them. It was a good start their careers.”