Keenan Reynolds amazes so many people with how he directs Navy’s triple-option offense and keeps scoring touchdowns.
As for the quarterback, he is in awe of the company he now keeps after joining the 30-touchdown rushing club in the Midshipmen’s 24-6 victory over Middle Tennessee State in the Armed Forces Bowl on Monday.
”It’s huge. You just say the name Barry Sanders and you can stop right there,” Reynolds said. ”He probably was the greatest college player there was. Just to be even in that conversation with guys like that is a humbling experience. I never thought I would be in that category.”
Reynolds had a 3-yard score to cap the opening drive for Navy (9-4) and added a 1-yarder in the fourth quarter. Already with the NCAA record for touchdowns rushing by a quarterback, Reynolds upped his total to 31 to match Colorado State running back Kapri Bibbs, also a sophomore, for the national lead this season.
The only players with more rushing TDs in a season were Sanders (37) with Oklahoma State, and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball (33).
Reynolds, playing 50 years after Hall of Fame quarterback and two-time Super Bowl champion Roger Staubach won the Heisman Trophy at Navy, still has two seasons left in college.
The Midshipmen ran 10 consecutive times on the game’s opening drive, with Reynolds going 3 yards to put them ahead to stay.
”It’s hard to simulate on a scout team what Navy does,” Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said.
Navy, which won for only the second time in its last seven bowl games, piled up 366 yards rushing and finished this season with five straight victories.
The Blue Raiders (8-5) were held to a season low in points. They had finished the regular season with a five-game winning streak, averaging nearly 43 points a game in that stretch – since a 34-7 loss on Oct. 12 at North Texas, about 40 miles away from the TCU campus where the bowl was played.
”This was the first time we kept a team completely out of the end zone. It was huge to finish like this,” senior linebacker Cody Peterson said.
”Last two games, our defense has played phenomenal,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ”Middle Tennessee has been moving the ball against a lot of people.”
In its previous game, just more than two weeks earlier, Navy beat Army 34-7 in the snow and freezing temperatures in Philadelphia.
It was 32 degrees at kickoff on Monday, but with sunny and clear skies.
Reynolds lost two fumbles, matching his total during the regular season, Middle Tennessee failed to convert into points either of the miscues. Both fumbles were recovered by linebacker T.T. Barber, the game’s defensive MVP, after Navy drove inside the 20.
Down 10-6 at halftime, the Blue Raiders moved to the Navy 7 on the opening drive of the second half. They went for it on fourth down instead of trying a short field goal. But fullback Corey Carmichael managed only a yard before getting taken down by Travis Bridges and George Jamison, who also had an interception.
Middle Tennessee played in a bowl one year after getting snubbed with the same 8-4 record in the regular season. That was in the Sun Belt Conference before moving to Conference USA this season.
”Well, last season we didn’t get a bowl game. We had something to prove,” Barber said. ”Having another eight-win season this year was a great accomplishment.”
Barber forced the first fumble late in the first half, jumping over the quarterback to pounce on the ball. The other came late in the third quarter when the Midshipmen drove from their own 6 to the MTSU 14 after stopping Middle Tennessee short on a fourth-and-2.
There was a scary moment in the final minute before halftime when Middle Tennessee receiver Marcus Henry and Navy cornerback Lonnie Richardson each crumpled after a hard tackle. Players from both teams quickly motioned to the sideline, and trainers sprinted to the players.
Henry and Richardson were side-by-side on the ground surrounded by their teammates and medical personnel. They eventually sat up, then got up and walked gingerly off the field with help.
Richardson was a second-teamer pressed into extra duty after the ejection of senior safety Wave Ryder for a borderline targeting penalty midway through the second quarter. Ryder appeared to make shoulder-to-shoulder contact on the hit of receiver Tavarres Jefferson at the end of a 22-yard gain, but officials upheld Ryder’s ejection after the automatic review of the play.