A week after pushing last season’s BCS runner-up to the wire, the Navy football team found itself in a most precarious position against winless Hawaii in the closing moments Saturday.
So, clinging to a seven-point lead, the Midshipmen turned to the player who has saved them time and again since becoming their starting quarterback last year. Keenan Reynolds responded with a virtuoso performance when it mattered most in a 42-28 win in front of 33,327 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The sophomore finished with a career-high 226 rushing yards — 179 in the second half — and four touchdowns on 28 carries and added another passing touchdown to put the Midshipmen (5-4) one win away from bowl eligibility. It was fourth 100-yard rushing game this year for Reynolds and the sixth of his career.
“The kid played a phenomenal football game,” said Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo, who played three years at quarterback for the Rainbow Warriors and then began his coaching career at his home-state school.
One week after rolling up 419 yards in a four-point loss to Notre Dame, Navy’s triple-option attack again was humming Saturday, amassing 442 yards to bail out a defense that yielded 191 rushing yards to Hawaii tailback Joey Iosefa and 246 passing yards and three touchdowns to quarterback Sean Schroeder.
But Reynolds scored two touchdowns just over seven minutes apart late in the fourth quarter, the first for 67 yards and the clincher from 21 yards out with 1 minute 36 seconds to play. The second touchdown came exactly three minutes after Hawaii got within 35-28 on a six-yard touchdown pass from Schroeder to tight end Clark Evans.
Hawaii muffed the kickoff after Reynolds’s final score, and Navy recovered to run out the clock.
“The whole game I felt like I was just one block away, one missed tackle away from breaking loose and going all the way,” Reynolds said after gaining the third-most rushing yards by a quarterback in Navy history. “I just tried to keep reminding myself to stay patient, stay patient because it was going to come eventually.”
Reynolds’s five total touchdowns are the most for the Midshipmen since Ricky Dobbs rushed for as many against Delaware in 2009, and he became the seventh quarterback at Navy to run for at least 200 yards.
Fullback Quinton Singleton also turned in a career performance with 93 rushing yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. The junior started in place of the injured Noah Copeland and became a workhorse when Chris Swain, the other regular fullback, got hurt during the game.
The Midshipmen broke a 14-14 tie to start the second half by completing an 11-play drive over 70 yards with Singleton’s 12-yard dash around the right side. The fullback took the pitch and ran untouched into the end zone four plays after Reynolds threw an interception that was waved off because of a penalty for roughing the passer.
That call landed Navy at the Rainbow Warriors 21, and on the next snap, Darius Staten had a touchdown run called back because of a holding penalty, but Reynolds shortly thereafter made sure the field position didn’t go to waste.
Navy tacked on the second touchdown of the third quarter on a series that began at its 49 with 7:51 to play. Following a short Hawaii punt, Singleton carried for 18 yards, and on third and nine, Reynolds picked up 12 to the 10.
Reynolds kept twice to conclude the possession, scoring from six yards with 4:39 left in the quarter for a 28-14 lead, and Navy had an opportunity for more breathing room when on its next series the Midshipmen drove to the 1. On fourth and goal, Niumatalolo elected to go for it, but Reynolds was unable to break the plane of the goal line.
Hawaii (0-9) then marched the length of the field on 18 plays to draw to 28-21 on Iosefa’s six-yard touchdown run with 9:31 left in regulation. Playing in his first game since Sept. 21 because of a foot injury, Iosefa logged a school-record 35 carries.
“Yeah, number seven, he ran pretty hard,” Navy linebacker Cody Peterson said of the 245-pounder. “Hawaii’s a good team They’re a lot better than their record shows I think. They fought hard, and we went hit for hit with them.”