Navy Midshipmen move on from loss, set sights on Air Force

Navy Midshipmen are focused on upcoming game against Air Force after falling to 2-3 after loss to Western Kentucky.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Navy

Navy Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds (19) scores a touchdown in the first quarter against Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. (Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports)

(C+P) — Shortly after a 36-27 defeat at the hands of Western Kentucky last Saturday, the Navy Midshipmen had every reason to lament the error of their ways.

Instead, their mindset pointed them in a different direction…and that direction was straight ahead.

“This game’s over,” head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We’re not even going to watch this tape. We’re going to move on.”

“On” would be their upcoming tilt on the road against Air Force—a game crucial in the battle for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. But, in order to successfully go forward, the Mids must improve on the mistakes that have been made in their two straight home losses—first to Rutgers and, most recently, to the Hilltoppers.

“That was probably the worst game I’ve played since I’ve been here,” Navy quarterback Kennan Reynolds said of his performance against Western Kentucky. “There are no excuses, no explanations. I’ve got to do a better job. I’m doing a poor job right now as quarterback. I have to step up and do better.”

It would be hard to argue against that assessment. Despite rushing for 121 yards and two touchdowns—bringing his career total to 48, now one behind Ricky Dobbs for the program’s all-time leadership—Reynolds lost a fumble for the fourth time this season. It was a costly one, as it occurred at the Mids’ 24-yard line and eventually led to a Western Kentucky TD.

Navy Midshipmen fullback Myles Swain (23) carries the ball in the first quarter at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. (Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports)
Navy Midshipmen fullback Chris Swain (37) carries the ball in the first quarter at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. (Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports)

Reynolds is not accustomed to passing in Navy’s run-first triple-option attack, and it was painfully evident this past Saturday. When forced to throw, he often overshot open receivers.

Down by two points with less than 90 seconds remaining, any hope of a game-winning drive was nullified when a forced pass to wide out Jamir Tillman instead went into the arms of Hilltopper cornerback Wonderful Terry and was returned 43 yards the other way for a touchdown to seal a WKU victory.

“I was trying to make a play and it was just a bad throw,” the junior signal-caller said. “That one was on me.”

It may have been a low point in Reynolds’ stellar career in Annapolis, but it would be wrong to solely blame the quarterback for Navy’s failings.

“We just didn’t play well together as a team, and it starts with me,” Niumatalolo said. “We had some missed blocks, missed assignments and missed tackles….We stopped ourselves.”

The defense also couldn’t stop Western Kentucky when it had to. The Hilltoppers offense, protecting a one-point advantage in the fourth quarter, did that—and much more. It was a drive that traveled 91 yards and lasted more than six minutes. Quarterback Brandon Doughty went 6-of-6 passing on that march and never had to face a third down situation. His run to pay dirt from one yard out with 6:52 remaining would leave the Midshipmen down, 29-21.

The end result may also have been different had Navy come through on special teams. Nick Sloan’s field goal attempt from 28 yards out midway through the third period hit the left upright and was no good. Conversely, the bounce went the way of Western Kentucky’s Garrett Schwettman. On his 33-yard try six minutes later, the ball caromed between the posts and gave the Hilltoppers a 22-21 lead.

In all, it was a collection of miscues that led to their demise and a 2-3 overall record. But its fortunes against Air Force have been much rosier of late. The Mids have won nine of their past 11 meetings with the Falcons—who are now 3-1 this year following a win against Boise State.

Air Force is almost a carbon copy of its rival service academy to the east. It ranks sixth nationally in rushing yards (323 per game) and features three players that have carried the ball more than 20 times in 2014 and have averaged greater than six yards an attempt. The most prominent of those rushers is sophomore Jacobi Owens, who leads the team with four TDs on the ground.

Last Oct. 5 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the Mids overpowered the Falcons with a strong second half—holding Air Force to just 111 total yards over the final two quarters to win, 28-10. Reynolds starred on offense with 126 yards running and three scores—as Navy continued its recent run of success against this familiar opponent.

But, as the saying goes, the past is prologue. Only a revamped team effort out in Colorado this Saturday will give Navy the chance to avoid going further below .500 and return to sea level.

“We just have to back to the drawing board,” Reynolds said. “We have the biggest game of the year coming up.”

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