Keenan Reynolds sets touchdown record as Navy makes it 12 straight over Army

The snow came and went, leaving a covering on the grass surface of frozen Lincoln Financial Field and a few thousand hearty fans left in the stands by halftime Saturday.

The Black Knights of Army came and went, too, but as has become a habit against Navy's respected, if overmatched, rival, the Midshipmen and quarterback Keenan Reynolds simply stayed the course.

After a slow start played in swirling winds, snow and cold, pelting rain that lasted until well into the second half, Navy and Reynolds overcame the elements, beating Army, 34-7, before a quickly dwindling crowd of 65,612.

Taking a 3-0 lead into the second quarter when they failed to score three times from inside the Army 4-yard line, the Midshipmen stretched their lead to 17-0 on long touchdowns runs in the second quarter by Reynolds and junior fullback Noah Copeland.

It was the 12th straight victory in the series and the fourth straight win this season for Navy (8-4), earning the Midshipmen their second consecutive Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and their ninth in the past 11 years.

“That's hard to do,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, who has been head coach for half of the winning streak over Army (3-8). “It's hard to beat anybody 12 times, but to beat your rivals. … We just tried to stay at the task at hand.”

Reynolds didn't come close to reprising his NCAA record-setting seven rushing touchdown performance against San Jose State last month, but he did something just as impressive: He broke a one-season NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.

Reynolds' three touchdowns, which came as he gained 136 yards on 30 carries, gave him 29 scores this season and helped the sophomore break the record of 27 held previously by former Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs and former Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.

“Coming into the game, I wasn't too concerned about the record,” Reynolds said. “If I broke it, I broke it. If not, oh well. My main concern was trying to get the W. If that involved me getting zero touchdowns and everybody else having a field day, I was cool with that.

“I just came in with an open mind, not too worried about the record. When you start to press and try to make things happen, that's usually when you make mistakes.”

After his first career reception on a 2-point conversion pass from wide receiver Brendan Dudeck, the quarterback's record-breaking 28th touchdown, Reynolds' third of the game and 29th of the season might have caused a bit of a stir, in that it happened with less than a minute remaining from a yard out and the Midshipmen already up by a large margin.

But Niumatalolo said that he did it after learning that Reynolds had a chance to break the school record for points in a season. Asked if there was any thought about having Reynolds take a knee rather than score, Niumatalolo said, “I've got a kid who's busted his butt this year and had a great season and had an opportunity to break the record. … The thought did come across my mind to take a knee. I have great respect for coach [Rich] Ellerson. Those [records] are hard to come by.”

Ellerson, whose five-year tenure at Army could be in jeopardy after losing for the ninth time in 10 games against the other service academy teams, said that after two straight narrow defeats to Navy “that gap has opened back up. … There is no doubt that this is a better Navy team than we saw a year ago, and I've said that this is the best Navy team since I've been here.”

It was not just Reynolds and a rushing offense that pounded the Black Knights for 343 yards on 57 carries. It was also a defense that limited the nation's leading rushing team to a measly 157 yards — less than half its season average — and forced three turnovers, two by freshman cornerback Brendon Clements.

“We were really focused on staying disciplined and letting the plays come to us and not doing too much, and today it worked out in our favor,” said junior linebacker Chris Johnson, who recovered a fumble caused by a Clements hit on Army quarterback A.J. Schurr at the Navy 38.

Said senior linebacker and co-captain Cody Peterson, who led Navy with 11 tackles: “I think that epitomizes our defense. We keep fighting and keep making plays and we don't let them into our end zone. They might get past the 50, but we'll bow up and we'll make sure they won't get any points on the board.”

Reynolds, whose only previous experience playing in snow had come at the controls on a video game, said, “It was fun, storybook Army-Navy. It was a cold, snowing, grind-it-out kind of game. You could not ask for too much more.”

After the first Army-Navy game to be played in accumulating snow in the past 30 years, and possibly ever, given that the game was long played the week of Thanksgiving, Niumatalolo looked at the wet, drooping lei hanging from his neck and commented on the weather.

"The only thing that reminded me of Hawaii was this lei, but this definitely wasn't Hawaii weather out there,” Niumatalolo said.

But it definitely was Army-Navy from the past 12 years.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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