- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 20, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — With two minutes left to play, a one-point lead to protect and a Homecoming party just waiting to begin, the Navy defense huddled at the 20-yard-line.

October air nipped through their facemasks as they glared at the opposing huddle. The fast-paced Indiana offense had scored at will in the first half Saturday, to the tune of 20 points and 269 yards. It had put up 49 points on Ohio State a week ago, and averaged 35.5 points per game in its first six contests. The Midshipmen needed a big-time stop.

And boy, did they get one.

Sophomore cornerback Parrish Gaines grabbed his second interception of the season and fell to the ground with 98 seconds remaining, cementing Navy’s 31-30 victory over the Hoosiers on Homecoming night at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. It was the school’s first victory over a BIG-10 opponent since 1979, and its’ first such win in Annapolis since – get this – 1926.

“Just a great football game,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Both sides battled to the end. I thought those guys played hard, our kids played hard…We just found a way to make one more play than they did. They could’ve very easily won the game too. It was just a close, hard-fought game.”

Matching up against a high-powered Indiana offense, freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds and the Navy offense proved that they were more than willing to keep pace. Reynolds played with poise beyond his years in the game’s closing moments, avoiding an all-out blitz to find Matt Aiken in the corner of the end zone with just over two minutes left in the game.

The plebe finished with 162 total yards and scored two touchdowns en route to his second consecutive win as a starting quarterback.

“He’s a true freshman, we’re down to a Big 10 team, and [he] just methodically moved us down,” Niumatalolo said. “He’ll be the first one to tell you he could’ve done some things better during the game, but the way he finished – very happy for him.”

Reynolds kept the Midshipmen in the game, but the defense won it. It stopped the Indiana offense in the red zone on three separate occasions, forcing the Hoosiers to settle for chip shot field goals each time. Navy came up with two huge interceptions and made the most stops at the most important junctures of the game.

“In a game where our offense moves the chain and has ball control, so did their offense,” defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. “They control the sticks, and in a game like this you get very few possessions. So when you get a stop, that’s huge.”

The Midshipmen didn’t just get one stop, but many. Down 17-7 in the second quarter, they were getting bullied on both sides of the ball. The Hoosiers were poised to score again. Then Navy’s reserve linebacker Obi Uzoma tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage. Jordan Drake intercepted it. With nothing but 24 yards of open space ahead of him, he returned it for a touchdown.

Then in the second half, as a cloudy afternoon turned into a starless night, the defense once again proved its mettle. A three-and-out to open the third quarter gave Reynolds confidence, and another red zone stop later in the period kept the game within reach. Time and time again, the Navy defense bent without breaking.

“We didn’t play our best game this year, we know that,” linebacker Keegan Wetzel said. “But when we needed it, the defense came up huge.”

Never was that truer than with two minutes to go. Indiana had racked up 417 yards in the game and needed just 50 or 60 more to get within field goal range. Niumatalolo paced the sideline, concerned that he had given the Hoosier offense too much time to take back the lead.

But with a lean to his left and fall to the turf, Gaines put those worries to rest. The Navy sideline jumped up and down. Defensive players swarmed to celebrate. A stadium that was tense erupted.

“It felt good to get that interception just for these guys, for my team, my brotherhood,” Gaines said, smiling to reveal a mouthful of braces. “That probably was one of the best moments of my life right there.”

“That’s who these kids are,” Niumatalolo added. “They’re fighters.”

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