- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 30, 2014

BALTIMORE — As he stood in the middle of Navy’s practice field Wednesday afternoon, Keenan Reynolds was asked what the Midshipmen would need to do to beat No. 5 Ohio State on Saturday.

“We’re going to have to play a perfect game,” he replied.

On a dreary afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium, the Midshipmen sometimes came close. Their triple-option offense hummed during three lengthy scoring drives. Their defensive linemen were stout against the run against their larger, stronger counterparts. They even carried a lead midway through the third quarter.

“I thought they were fighting their butts off,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “But we didn’t finish.”

The Buckeyes took the lead on an 80-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter and scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth, pulling away to beat Navy, 34-17, in the season-opener for both teams. The Midshipmen imposed their will on the ground, gashing Ohio State for 370 rushing yards and two scores, but the defense eventually faltered and Reynolds was unable to lead a comeback.

“We did some good things, we did some bad things. Certainly some things that I wish I could go back and change,” Reynolds said. “I think we just pick it up next week, get better at the things we weren’t very good at and build on the things that we were good at.”

In the week leading up to the game, Navy players and coaches were not shy when discussing their odds. They knew what they were up against. Ohio State hasn’t lost to a team outside the five power conferences since 1990, and in the previous three years, the program boasted the No. 3, No. 2 and No. 4 recruiting classes in the country, according to Rivals.com.

“And we’re just a bunch of guys that just want to play,” Navy senior Noah Copeland said.

So when the Buckeyes jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, it was hardly a surprise.

The surprise came shortly afterwards, when Reynolds orchestrated an 11-play, 75-yard drive, culminating in a fourth-down run from the 1-yard-line. Reynolds turned and pitched the ball the slotback DeBrandon Sanders, who rolled left, dove and barely tipped over the pylon for a touchdown. The play was upheld after an official’s review.

Navy’s triple-option offense continued to give Ohio State fits throughout the first half and early into the second, when senior slotback Ryan Williams-Jenkins took an inside handoff and sprinted through the left side of the line for 67 yards.

“You’re not going to see anything like that all year: the way they ran their offense, the speed they had and then their running backs,” Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “I’ve never gone up against running backs that run harder than they do.”

Between effective strings of running plays, however, Navy also made several mistakes. In the second quarter, two plays after Parrish Gaines intercepted Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, Sanders dropped a pitch from Reynolds. The pitch was ruled a forward pass upon review, reversing a costly turnover, but Navy was forced to punt two plays later.

Then in the third quarter, Reynolds faced pressure up the middle and pitched the ball behind Demond Brown, which was “completely on me,” the quarterback said. Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee scooped up the ball and raced 61 yards to put the Buckeyes ahead, 13-7.

“We had some uncharacteristic mistakes that we normally don’t do,” Niumatalolo said, “and against a team like Ohio State, you can’t do that.”

The game changed seven minutes later. After Reynolds and the Midshipmen answered with a score to go up 14-13, Barrett found wide receiver Devin Smith running wide open behind Navy’s secondary. Smith collected the pass, broke an ankle tackle and scored, crushing whatever momentum the Midshipmen had just created.

“I’m going to think about that one when I go to sleep tonight, for sure,” Gaines said. “I didn’t [miss my assignment], but it’s the secondary. One person gets beat, everybody gets beat.”

In Navy’s last meeting with Ohio State in 2009, Ricky Dobbs scampered for a 24-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to pull the Midshipmen to within 29-27. They tried to convert a two-point conversion to tie the game, but Dobbs’ pass was intercepted and returned all the way to the opposite end zone. The Buckeyes won, 31-27.

On that day, the Midshipmen left the field with pride and a list of positives. Saturday was more of the same.

“Our kids battled,” Niumatalolo said, “but we didn’t play perfect.”

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