Navy wide receiver Matt Aiken, left, celebrates with teammates Bo Snelson,… (Gail Burton/Associated…)
For the second time in three games, Navy freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds dismissed precarious circumstances in the fourth quarter to direct an improbable comeback, rallying the Midshipmen to a 31-30 victory over Indiana on Saturday afternoon.
Before a homecoming crowd of 33,441 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Reynolds tossed a four-yard touchdown pass to Matt Aiken with 2 minutes 2 seconds left in regulation, erasing a nine-point deficit with 12:18 to play. One series earlier, Reynolds led a 74-yard drive that ended with Nick Sloan’s 18-yard field goal to whittle the margin to a single possession.
The decisive drive included a 21-yard completion to senior slotback Gee Gee Greene, who added a 22-yard run two plays later to the Hoosiers 21. Facing third and three and from the 4, Reynolds avoided a heavy pass rush and threw to Aiken in the corner of the end zone with no defenders in the vicinity.
Indiana’s no-huddle offense took over at the 20, and on second down, sophomore cornerback Parrish Gaines swooped in to intercept sophomore quarterback Cameron Coffman with 1:38 left to secure Navy’s third consecutive win. It was the second interception for the Midshipmen (4-3), who also had linebacker Jordan Drake return Coffman’s errant throw for a touchdown late in the second quarter. Navy is over .500 for the first time since it was 2-1 last season.
“That’s who these kids are,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “They’re fighters. You go through so much here, from the prep school to being a plebe. The rigors of being a student-athlete here, it’s hard. I couldn’t have done it.”
Reynolds’s performances over the last three weeks have been unlike any plebe before him at the academy. The first freshman to start at quarterback for Navy since 1991 completed 8 of 13 passes for 96 yards against Indiana with one touchdown and added 66 rushing yards and another score.
Three weeks ago, Reynolds entered the game against Air Force at Falcon Stadium with Navy trailing by eight points with nine minutes to play and engineered a rousing 28-21 overtime victory to trigger this latest upswing. Last week, Reynolds made his first start in a 31-13 road win against Central Michigan.
“When I walk into the huddle, I feel like I can’t let those guys down,” said Reynolds, who has no turnovers in more than eight quarters plus one overtime after Navy committed a dozen before he became the regular starter. “Our team motto [“It’s Not About Me”], we use it a lot, and I really think about that when I get in those situations. I can’t let my teammates down because of my personal feelings. I’ve just got to go out and do my job.”
The defense did its part, too. After allowing 269 yards in the first half, Navy surrendered 148 thereafter and forced Indiana to punt with the lead down to 30-24 with 5:30 to play.
Indiana (2-5) had built its second-half lead via place kicker Mitch Ewald’s 30-yard field goal late in the third quarter and running back Tevin Coleman’s three-yard scoring run early in the final period, but failed to make it stand to lose for the fourth consecutive time.
“At the end of the day, they made the stops,” Indiana Coach Kevin Wilson said. “They made the plays. They get two turnovers, and we get none.”
Indiana had rolled to a 10-0 lead on its opening two possessions before Navy mounted a 12-play drive covering 69 yards to get within a field goal. Reynolds finished it off with a two-yard touchdown run on third and goal during a drive in which Navy benefited from a pair of Hoosiers penalties.
The Hoosiers came right back with a 72-yard touchdown drive culminating in D’Angelo Roberts’s three-yard run on the 16th play.
Indiana regained possession with 3:37 left until halftime, still holding a 17-7 lead, and appeared poised for more after having moved the ball crisply. But on the second play of the series, Drake stepped in front of Coffman’s throw to the boundary and returned it 24 yards to the end zone.
Linebacker Obi Uzoma had been applying pressure and tipped the throw at the line of scrimmage, allowing Drake to secure the wobbly pass for his first career interception.
The Hoosiers got one more possession and converted it into Ewald’s 23-yard field goal for a 20-14 advantage for the final play of the first half, before Navy came storming back with a combination of timely offense and defense.
“I mean it felt good to get that interception just for these guys on my team, just our brotherhood and stuff,” Gaines said. “That’s probably one of the best moments of my life right there, just to have my team on me like that. I wanted to do a celebration but couldn’t even do it. They were all over me.”