PHILADELPHIA | Navy wide receiver Brandon Turner pleaded in the second half to somehow get him the ball.
Keenan Reynolds obliged, then did what was necessary a play later to seal the Midshipmen’s most riveting victory in a decade-plus stretch of dominance against Army.
Turner hauled in a 49-yard catch to set up Reynolds’ go-ahead touchdown run as Navy edged Army 17-13 Saturday to earn an 11th consecutive victory over its archrival and secure the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time since 2009.
“It’s just not letting your brothers down,” Turner said. “It was that opportunity to bring the CIC back was just awesome. This is the best I’ve ever felt after winning a football game. I wish I could put it into words, but it’s just phenomenal.”
Navy (8-4) is 19-2 against service academies since the 2002 Army-Navy game.
That triumph set off an incomparable streak in the Army-Navy series, and the perception of a vast chasm between the programs set in after Navy authored blowout after blowout.
Things have grown closer, with the last two years coming down to fourth-quarter scores for the Mids. Yet Army (2-10) had its best chance to snap its skid after driving into the red zone in the final two minutes.
Yet Army quarterback Trent Steelman and fullback Larry Dixon couldn’t complete a handoff, and Navy defensive lineman Barry Dabney pounced on it with 1:04 remaining to clinch another victory for the Mids.
“Every time you think one game can’t top the other, that [a] game was as exciting as it can get, we have this game,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Reynolds provided the most exciting element of all, engineering his third comeback from a fourth-quarter deficit since the start of October.
The precocious Reynolds, only the third plebe ever to start for Navy, seized the starting job when he rallied Navy from an eight-point deficit at Air Force. He bookended the regular season with another come-from-behind performance on his team’s grandest stage.
And while he insisted memories of the Air Force game were far from his mind when the Mids took over after a missed field goal with 6:57 left, the similarity of the situation in retrospect was unmistakable.
“I told the guys this is the one: We have to go down and score,” Reynolds said. “They looked at me and said ‘Let’s go.’”
And so they did. After modest progress in four plays, Reynolds scrambled for 11 yards before lofting a pinpoint pass to Turner down the right side to the Army 8.
On the next snap, Reynolds rolled into the end zone for a lead Navy wouldn’t relinquish.
“There’s something about the kid,” Turner said. “The way he led us on that last drive was unbelievable. In one of the biggest games, a freshman came in and beat one of the better Army teams there’s been these last few years. That’s remarkable. That’s incredible.”
It ranks right up there with Navy’s control of the series.
While there were satisfying storylines —- Turner making his biggest catch in a senior year that almost didn’t happen because of a failed conditioning test, fullback Noah Copeland rumbling for 99 yards and a score, senior captain Brye French climbing into the stands and proposing to his girlfriend after the game —- everything eventually came back to the Mids’ continued service academy supremacy.
The Mids still have a game to play (the Dec. 29 Fight Hunger Bowl against Arizona State), but in reality it is merely a bonus. Saturday ensured this season will go down as a success for Navy.
“It means everything to get your No. 1 goal,” Niumatalolo said. “That’s our No. 1 goal, to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. To know all the hard work, all the running that these guys did in the summer, trying to eat right, do right, practice hard, I’m just so happy for these guys.”
—- Patrick Stevens