Over the last five quarters plus one overtime, the Navy football team has gone from the fringe of collapse to an upswing that includes the promise of long-term prosperity.
The sudden shift has primarily come from quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who performed with command uncommon for a freshman for the second straight game last week. In Friday’s 31-13 victory over Central Michigan, Reynolds had the triple option moving virtually without a hitch and became the first Midshipmen quarterback in 15 years to pass for three touchdowns.
So it came as little surprise when Coach Ken Niumatalolo declared Reynolds the starter for Saturday’s game against Indiana at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Reynolds is set for his first start at home after playing in consecutive road games, including rallying the Midshipmen to a 28-21 win at Air Force on Oct. 6.
“Every time the guy goes out there he amazes you,” Niumatalolo said. “I mean what he did at Air Force was amazing with the comeback in that game. [Against Central Michigan] I thought he played well. Even some of the little runs, he tucked it up and got some positive yards when he could have had some negative yards. I thought he played smart not just throwing the ball but running the football too.”
Reynolds distinguished himself against Central Michigan with execution and accuracy that kept the Chippewas off-balance. Confounding the defense with play-action fakes, Reynolds delivered touchdown strikes of 23 yards to senior wide receiver Brandon Turner and 19 and 41 yards to senior slotback Gee Gee Greene.
Navy’s other touchdown came via a 61-yard drive during the third quarter in which Reynolds completed a 19-yard pass to Turner, giving the Midshipmen a first down at the Central Michigan 40. Eight plays later, senior fullback Prentice Christian scored on a two-yard run, and Navy was on its way to its most points this season against an Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.
“He’s a student of the game,” offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said of Reynolds. “He’s a perfectionist. He wants to be good at something. That’s just a tribute to the kid and the way he’s been coached and the way he’s been raised. It’s something he takes pride in.
“Now, we have a lot more games to be played. I’m not ready to say everything is peaches and cream right now. There’s a long season to go. It’s a week-to-week deal, and he understands that.”
Waiting for another opportunity to play is Trey Miller, who began the season as the starting quarterback. The junior hurt his left ankle in a 50-10 season-opening loss to Notre Dame and aggravated the injury in the fourth quarter against Air Force. Reynolds entered with 9 minutes 3 seconds left in regulation of that game and directed a touchdown drive that tied the score at 21.
Then in overtime, Reynolds moved Navy to the 1-yard line on the opening possession before fumbling into the end zone while trying to cross the goal line. Right guard Jake Zuzek fell on the loose ball for the touchdown, and the defense did the rest to give Navy the inside track on the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
Listed as probable on this week’s injury report, Miller is not healed, Niumatalolo said, but he’s gaining more stability in his ankle and has been able to practice. Last week Miller wore a boot on his leg on Monday, practiced on Tuesday and was held out on Wednesday, prompting Niumatalolo to announce Reynolds as the starter.
“It’s just another day,” Reynolds said when asked about the anticipation for his first home start. “You’ve got to keep grinding, keep working, keep getting better. Can’t dwell on the last game. Can’t dwell on Air Force. None of that. Just got to look ahead and get ready for what’s coming up next.”