ANNAPOLIS, MD. — Navy’s offense staged a shutdown of its own before springing to life in the second half against Air Force.
Keenan Reynolds ran for 126 yards and three touchdowns, and the Midshipmen rolled to a 28-10 victory Saturday in a game that survived the restrictions of the U.S. government mass furlough.
Although the Department of Defense has suspended athletic competition at the nation’s service academies because of the shutdown, an exception was made for this event because it was funded by non-appropriated money.
Still, it made for a difficult and unusual few days of preparation.
“It was a tough week for both sides, the uncertainty of if the game was going to happen,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “You didn’t know what was going to transpire.”
The game didn’t go according to the script either. Air Force came in a heavy underdog after losing four straight, but the Falcons were the better team in the first half and went to the locker room with a 10-7 lead.
“We didn’t execute like we should have on offense,” Reynolds said. “I made a few dumb plays, a few mistakes.”
After that, however, it was all Navy (3-1). It began with the opening drive of the third quarter, when the Midshipmen moved 75 yards in eight plays to take a 14-10 lead.
“That was huge,” Reynolds said. “It really helped out with the team confidence, gave the guys some swagger. We were able to get the momentum going our way.”
Early in the week, when the status of the game was still up in the air, both academies decided it best to proceed as usual. So Air Force coach Troy Calhoun didn’t use the extraordinary circumstances as an excuse.
“We planned and prepared like we would any week,” Calhoun said.
Navy’s Chris Johnson, who had two fourth-quarter interceptions, said, “During the week, we were going through it like we knew the game was on, even though there was an uncertainty. When we found out were going to play, we were happy. But it wasn’t like we were surprised.”
On a magnificent fall afternoon, a record crowd of 38,225 filled Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for this pivotal matchup. The previous 16 winners of this game have gone on to win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy, awarded annually to the service academy with the best record in games involving Air Force, Navy and Army.
Navy has won the trophy twice in a row, and now the Midshipmen are poised to do it again after their most lopsided win over Air Force since 1978.
Reynolds returned from a concussion to successfully run the triple-option in addition to going 6 for 10 for 54 yards through the air.
Air Force (1-5) got a solid performance from a defense that had allowed an average of 48.75 points in its previous four games, but the offense was limited to a season-low in points.
After amassing 202 yards in offense in the first half, Air Force got only 111 over the final 30 minutes.
“The better team won today, especially when you look at the second half,” Calhoun said. “There is no doubt there was a difference in the last two quarters.”
The game turned when Demond Brown scored on a 38-yard run for a 14-10 lead within the first three minutes of the second half.
A series of punts followed until Air Force fullback Broam Hart was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-2 from the Navy 34 on the second play of the fourth quarter.
Reynolds then directed a 66-yard march in which he twice converted third downs, once on a 17-yard run and the other with a 12-yard completion. On the 11th play of the drive, he ran in from the 2.
Air Force’s next three possessions ended in turnovers. After the second one, an interception by Johnson, Reynolds ran in from the 10 with 4:37 remaining.
The Falcons led at halftime after running 43 plays compared to only 23 for Navy and holding the ball for nearly 21 of 30 minutes.
Air Force dominated in the early going, opening with a 13-play march that produced a field goal. The Falcons’ second possession carried from their own 13 to Navy’s 32 before Will Conant came up short on a 50-yard field goal try.
After being limited to a total of 33 yards on their first two drives, the Midshipmen finally got their offense working. Reynolds coordinated a six-play, 71-yard drive that ended with the quarterback running in from the 3 to make it 7-3.
Air Force answered with a 79-yard drive capped by an 18-yard run by Anthony LaCoste.