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Armed Forces Bowl: Navy defeats Middle Tennessee

 

Gene Wang
(c) 2013, The Washington Post


FORT WORTH, Texas — The Navy football team produced one of its finest defensive showings this season, and quarterback Keenan Reynolds directed a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to forge a 24-6 victory over Middle Tennessee State in the Armed Forces Bowl on Monday in front of an announced crowd of 39,246 at Amon G. Carter Stadium.

In keeping an opponent from scoring a touchdown for the first time this season, the Midshipmen (9-4) closed the season with five consecutive wins and six in seven games. They also won a bowl game for the first time since 2009 and finished with nine wins for the third time since Coach Ken Niumatalolo took over in 2007.

"First and foremost, very happy for our team, all of our players, all of these players up here, our seniors," Niumatalolo said during the postgame news conference. "It's a just a special way to send them out. These guys work so hard. I have so much respect for our players that come to the Naval Academy and everything that they go through."

Clinging to a four-point lead after some sloppy ball security, Navy moved ahead, 17-6, with 10 minutes 48 seconds left in regulation on Reynolds's one-yard run. It was the 31st rushing touchdown this season for the sophomore, who holds the NCAA record for rushing scores by a quarterback and moved into a tie for the national lead in total touchdowns.

Navy safety George Jamison intercepted Blue Raiders quarterback Logan Kilgore on the ensuing series, and two plays later Reynolds (86 yards, two touchdowns on 20 carries) delivered a textbook pitch to slotback DeBrandon Sanders, who raced 41 yards for a touchdown that helped end the Midshipmen's two-game slide in the postseason.

Jamison was in the game because starter Wave Ryder was disqualified for targeting with 7:41 to play in the first half and backup Lonnie Richardson suffered a concussion. The Midshipmen also were without starting defensive end Paul Quessenbery, who was not in uniform for violating team rules.

Still, Navy limited Middle Tennessee State to 309 yards, 106 less than its season average, and stonewalled an offense that had scored at least 42 points in four of five games.

"I couldn't be more proud of them," Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. "They played hard."

Navy won the toss and typically has deferred until the second half but this time elected to take the ball. The decision yielded the 30th rushing touchdown by Reynolds, who became the fourth player in FBS history to accomplish the feat, joining Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders, Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Colorado State's Kapri Bibbs.

The drive was signature triple option, with all 10 plays runs using nearly five minutes and covering 59 yards. Reynolds finished it off by following the right side of the line into the end zone from three yards with 10:01 to play.

After Middle Tennessee kicked a 43-yard field goal, the Midshipmen tacked on a field goal of their own when Nick Sloan connected from 32 yards. Navy had reached the Blue Raiders 15 during a lengthy drive, but on third and nine, Noah Copeland (59 yards, 11 carries) managed two yards running up the middle.

The series included injuries to three Navy starters over five snaps. Wide receiver Casey Bolena, left guard E.K. Binns and center Tanner Fleming all had to be helped off the field, with only Binns re-entering. Moments later, the Midshipmen lost Ryder after the senior delivered a jarring hit to wide receiver Tavarres Jefferson and was forced to spend the rest of his final game in the locker room.

Navy's secondary was down to its bare bones when Richardson got hurt late in the first half. That left the Midshipmen with Jamison, who plays mostly special teams, but the defense preserved a 10-6 lead when Reynolds fumbled for Navy's first turnover in six games, allowing the Blue Raiders to recover at their 29 with 54 seconds to play and three timeouts.

"It's great to be champions of the bowl game," said Reynolds, who improved to 15-6 as a starter and was able to overcome four fumbles, two of which he lost. "This is a tribute to everyone on the team. About the touchdowns, it's good to be mentioned with Barry Sanders, Montee Ball and Kapri Bibbs. That is good company, and it was a great win for Navy."

 

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