ANNAPOLIS — Quarterback Keenan Reynolds deftly handled nearly everything presented to him during his sensational debut season at Navy, rarely looking like a freshman along the way.
It took him little time to rise to No. 2 on the depth chart. He quickly seized the starting job when Trey Miller was injured. And he presided over a five-game winning streak to help the Midshipmen secure bowl eligibility.
Sunday afternoon, as he spoke to offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, Reynolds had to deal with something new: coping with his part in a 41-31 loss to Troy.
Reynolds rushed for three touchdowns in the setback. He also lost a fumble to effectively cost the Mids (6-4) a score and another that led directly to a Troy touchdown. And while Navy's defense was gashed for nearly 600 yards, the competitive Reynolds is in a curious spot as the Mids enter Saturday's home finale against Texas State (3-6).
"I'm real hard on myself because I realize how much turnovers can hurt a team," Reynolds said. "I was really upset with myself and talking with him made it better. I just need to get back out here and have a short-term memory and just go at it this week."
There's little reason to believe Reynolds will do anything else. After all, he accounted for only two turnovers in Navy's first nine games and seemed in full control nearly all the time. Along the way, he's accounted for 17 touchdowns (nine rushing, eight passing) and became the first Mids quarterback to win his first four starts since 1979.
Yet Saturday is a different sort of test. It might not rate as a game with greatest meaning, even though a victory would provide a Senior Day triumph and clinch a winning season. Nonetheless, it will demonstrate how the poised Reynolds shakes off a few miscues.
"He's devastated about it, but at the same time I want him to forget about it and move on," Jasper said. "He's hard on himself. He didn't get it done on Saturday, and he can't dwell on it and can't let it beat him twice."
The turnovers obscured an otherwise solid day for Reynolds, who produced his second straight 100-yard rushing day. Yet it's difficult not to ask what could have been if not for the bizarre first fumble.
With Navy down 14-0, Reynolds uncorked a 70-yard run only to be brought down at the 2. He fell on his tackler and the ball squirted through the end zone for a Troy touchback. Moments later, the Trojans went up 21-0.
"I just kind of looked up to the man upstairs and said 'Are you kidding me? Come on.'" Jasper said. "It's just one of those things where it was the craziest thing that happened. It's something that, honestly, you've just got to laugh at it. To make that great a run, to get tackled, to fall on top of the guy and then the ball comes out. It's like, you couldn't hit the ground and the ball comes out?"
If nothing else, it was evidence not everything will unfold smoothly for Reynolds, or any quarterback for that matter. Much of Navy's success over the past month was tied to the plebe, and rightfully so. Reynolds has played a part in nudging the Mids back into the postseason and having an opportunity to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy next month when they meet Army.
But as good as he is, he isn't flawless, either.
"One thing I try to remind myself is that anything can happen to anybody," Reynolds said. "I'm not immune to mistakes. I'm not perfect. I have to do a better job of hanging onto the football. I cost my team 14 points. It was just poor ball-handling by myself, and I have to get better at that this week."
The Mids are optimistic Reynolds will. Either way, they'll learn something new about a freshman who has passed nearly every test presented to him.
"Hopefully, he handles it well," coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "People close to him are concerned because he takes these things pretty hard and puts a lot of pressure on himself. Our message to him is to keep getting better. We'll see how he handles it."
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