Navy capped a week of uncertainty with a convincing win over its service academy rival to the west.
Keenan Reynolds, who was knocked out of last weekend’s loss at Western Kentucky, directed three second-half touchdown drives to rally the Midshipmen past Air Force, 28-10, on Saturday afternoon in front of a record crowd of 38,225 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
The decisive points came on the Midshipmen’s first possession following intermission. Navy began at its 25 and ran on six of seven plays to advance to the Falcons 38, and from there Reynolds executed a textbook pitch to slotback Demond Brown for a 14-10 lead with 12 minutes 9 seconds left in the third quarter.
In the most lopsided victory in the series since 1978, the Midshipmen scored another touchdown on their first possession of the fourth quarter courtesy of Reynolds’s two-yard dive. Reynolds added a 10-yard touchdown run four minutes later for the final margin, and Navy was well on its way in the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
“For me as a coach it gives me great peace when look down and I see him sitting on the bench, with not a baseball cap on, where he still can play,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said of Reynolds.
Reynolds, in the lineup after exiting late in the first half of last week’s 19-7 loss to Western Kentucky, finished with 126 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. The sophomore added 54 passing yards, completing 6 of 10 attempts.
The defense also contributed significantly to a second straight victory and ninth in 10 meetings over Air Force, collecting three second-half turnovers. Junior linebacker Chris Johnson had two interceptions, and the Midshipmen pitched a shutdown following the break in limiting the Falcons to their lowest point total this season.
“It was awesome,” said junior free safety Lonnie Richardson, who was in the game because of an injury to starter Wave Ryder. “I can’t really say too much about it, but all the guys on defense, they were running around making plays, and that’s what we have to do in order to get the stops to get our offense back on the field.”
Air Force moved the ball with little resistance on the first possession, which began at its 23-yard line. The Falcons were especially proficient on third down, converting 3 of 4 attempts, but stalled on fourth and one after left guard David Lore jumped offside.
Place kicker Will Conant booted a 45-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead, and on their next series, the Falcons continued to keep Navy’s defense on its heels. The Midshipmen managed to blunt the drive with Ferguson’s five-yard tackle for loss, and Conant’s 50-yard field goal attempt fell short.
“There were a couple of key plays that we missed, and we knew coming in today that we need to make every key play to win the contest,” Air Force Coach Troy Calhoun said.
Navy finally got its offense in gear in the second quarter with a 71-yard touchdown drive that included a 17-yard pass from Reynolds to wide receiver Matt Aiken on second and 10. The senior co-captain caught the pass in the flat and broke a tackle attempt around his ankle to reach the Air Force 33.
Three plays later, Reynolds scored on a three-yard run, but he lead was fleeting. Air Force responded quickly with running back Anthony LaCoste’s 18-yard touchdown run, breaking loose up the middle while virtually untouched for a 10-7 advantage with 1:50 left until halftime.
“We went back in our locker room and regrouped, and we were able to get it going in the second half,” Reynolds said. “We know we had some crucial points, crucial possessions where we had to score. Defense had been on the field most of the first half, and we had to put together a drive, string some first downs. We just were able to execute and keep the ball moving.”