Everything was going according to plan in the fourth quarter Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Plebe quarterback Keenan Reynolds had racked up 268 total yards and three touchdowns. The Midshipmen were up 24-10 against Florida Atlantic. Bowl eligibility was all but guaranteed.
Then Reynolds' left elbow was bent awkwardly on a tackle near midfield. The quarterback who has accounted for 13 touchdowns in four starts laid flat on his back, kicking a leg in frustration. Backup quarterback Trey Miller rushed to grab his helmet. The stadium went quiet.
Miller fumbled on the very next snap as Reynolds jogged to the locker room, and the Owls capitalized with a three-yard touchdown run in the following minutes. But just as the game was beginning to slip away, Reynolds stood on the sideline with his elbow wrapped in black tape. He played out the rest of the game and guided Navy to a 24-17 win.
"I'm fine," Reynolds said with a shrug after the game. "I'm not really sure what it is, but I'm not too worried about it."
Worries have been few and far between in Annapolis since Reynolds took over. With a plebe under center, the Midshipmen have rattled off five straight victories and committed just two turnovers during that span. At 6-3, they are one of the few teams in the country that already know their bowl fate. Navy announced minutes after the final whistle that it had accepted an invitation to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.
While Reynolds hasn't been solely responsible for the team's turnaround, he has been the spark plug. He had another stellar game Saturday, rushing for 169 yards, passing for 147 and scoring all three of Navy's touchdowns.
"Keenan is a tough kid," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "His elbow is hurt, but he dug it out at the end. He made some big plays to give us a chance."
The Midshipmen needed those big plays after getting off to a sluggish start on a blustery afternoon. Punter Pablo Beltran shanked a punt. Kicker Nick Sloan missed his first field goal of the season. And the Navy offense, which had averaged 379 yards per game before Saturday, could muster only 16 yards in the first quarter.
That is, until Reynolds decided to get involved.
First, he broke a 48-yard run in the second quarter, scampering straight through the heart of the Owls' defense. Then he did it through the air, splitting two defensive backs to hit Brandon Turner for the touchdown. It was all downhill from there.
"It's hard," Florida Atlantic head coach Carl Pelini said. "You get your DBs all geared up for the option and then you get in long yardage and it's hard to change gears. We haven't been in coverage like that all week."
Navy had trouble running the ball early, so Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper let their freshman quarterback throw it. He had a season-high 15 pass attempts and completed eight, none more impressive than a 31-yard touchdown pass to Turner early in the third quarter. On fourth down and eight, Reynolds threw upwind into double coverage but scored anyways.
After Turner found the end zone, Reynolds shook his head and smiled through his mouth guard.
"I've been told to keep my eyes downfield for someone to come open," he said. "I saw Brandon was open late so I wanted to let a playmaker make a play."
The Midshipmen made plenty of plays Saturday to clinch their ninth bowl appearance in 10 years, thereby crossing off one of their two goals for this season. The other has to wait until Dec. 8, when they'll face Army at Lincoln Financial Field with the Commander-in-Chief's trophy on the line.
"As we learned this week, nothing is ever given to you," linebacker Keegan Wetzel said. "I thought there were times today when we were able to rise up, but we have to get better as a football team. There is a lot of football left to play."
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