Yes, the games are getting closer, but if there’s any consolation in losing by a lesser margin, Jeff Monken wasn’t biting. Navy’s 14th straight victory over Army Saturday was by the least margin of all those in the streak, coming down, in fact, to the last play of the game. A long, arching into a mob in the end zone. Batted down. Incomplete. Another loss.
“We have a whole team full of guys that fight and they did it again tonight,” said the Army head coach after the Black Knights’ 21-17 loss to Navy at Lincoln Financial Field. They gave it everything that they had, laid it on the line and it just came down to execution.”
The Black Knights’ biggest obstacle entering the game was Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who, with one game left in his collegiate career, has pretty much rewritten the NCAA record book. And it was two decisive touchdown runs by Reynolds that proved to be the difference. Nevertheless, Army did do what every Navy opponent has tried for four years — to somehow reign in Reynolds’ other-worldly skills. And it did work. Sort of.
Reynolds rushed for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. He also three for 113 passing yards, including a 50-yard touchdown to Jamir Tillman. Reynolds’ strength has always been responding to his team’s immediate needs, and he did so almost from the git go. Army took an early 3-0 led on its first possession, a drive that began with Edgar Poe’s 50-yard punt return that left the Black Knights with the ball at the Navy 40. A fumbled snap and a penalty backed Army up to the 50; freshman quarterback Chris Carter, making just his second collegiate start, then hit Poe with a 31-yard pass to the 19. Three plays only netted five yards, and Army settled for a 31-yard field goal from Dan Grochowski and a 3-0 lead.
Reynolds’ response was immediate. He ran the ball twice — one for 17 yards, one for 58 yards for a touchdown, a play on which no Army defender even came near him.
“Keenan Reynolds is a good player and made some plays, and we expected that.” Army linebacker Jeremy Timpf said.
But it was clear that Army, which entered the game a 22-point underdog, was not going to fold. Not this time. Following that first Navy touchdown, the Black Knights came right back, thanks in large part to a 12-yard Carter-to-Poe completion, plus a 15-yard hands-to-the-face penalty on Navy defensive end Amos Mason. That left the ball at the Navy 29. Tyler Campbell did the rest, running in his first career touchdown for a 10-7 lead. In past games, a Navy score was greeted on the Army bench like a pipe bomb. Not this time.
“They had a chance to quit tonight and they didn’t,” Monken said. “They’ve had a chance to quit all year and they haven’t and I know they’re going to keep fighting.”
Navy regained the lead thanks to two Reynolds runs — the first one, a 35 yarder on which Reynolds, looking to pass was flushed from the pocket and just kept going. That brought the ball to the Army 4. Three plays later, Reynolds scored from the 1 for a 14-10 lead. Then, once again, it was Army’s turn. And the Black Knights struck quickly, A Carter pitch to Christian Drake was good for 15 yards; next play, Carter hit Poe for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 2 minutes, 8 seconds left in the first half. The pair got together for four completions and 91 passing yards in the first half; they were held to two catches and 40 yards in the second.
“They brought some pressure and we didn’t handle it very well in picking up the blitzes,” Monken said. “At times Carter got back there as he felt the pressure coming and experience will teach him to throw the ball into the stands when that happens, but he was trying to make a play. That was the second college football game he has ever played in and I thought he played his heart out. He made some critical errors, but I thought he played just as hard and good as we could have expected, especially his second game and first Army‐Navy game of his career.”
In fact, Carter showed remarkable poise. There were times he was slow to pitch the ball; still others, while running the ball, he tried to make something out of nothing, so rather than hit the ground for no loss, he kept going, usually taken down for a loss of yardage. But he did complete 9 of 15 passes for 209 yards. Think of this as a pitcher making his second career start, but doing so in the World Series.
“I knew that my teammates had my back,” Carter said. “I’m thankful for that and blessed to have a team like this. They all believed in me, and I appreciate all of them for that. I just wanted to do my best for them.”
Army could do little offensively in the second half. In fact, its first four possession were of the three-and-out variety. Navy had two such possessions, but in between they put up the last — and decisive score of the game. At midfield following an Army punt, Reynolds hit a wide-open Tillman — no Army defender was within 20 yards of him when he made the catch — and that gave Navy a 21-17 lead.
The Black Knights, 2-10, had their chances, but Carter’s inexperience was sure to show at sometime. On Army’s second possession of the fourth quarter, Carter fumbled two snaps; the second, at the Navy 33, was recovered by Navy linebacker Ted Colburn. In a 6-minute stretch, Army fumbled the ball three times. Nevertheless, the Black Knights, less than three minutes into the fourth quarter, had a chance to pull within one point. But Grochowski missed a 29-yard field-goal attempt, leaving Army in the position where it would need a touchdown. And the Black Knights tried an unconventional maneuver.
Carter dropped back to pass, than lateraled it to wide receiver DeAndre Bell. Bell than hoisted one towards the end zone. It was intended for Campbell; instead it was intercepted by Daiquan Thomasson.
“If it’s not there, the plan was to tuck the ball and run, but he saw Tyler Campbell running down the field,” Monken said. “It wasn’t like he defender was blanket covering him. There was a guy there, and DeAndre just put it up there and tried to give him a chance to go make a play. The kid made a heck of a catch. Campbell could have gone up, made a heck of a play and brought it down himself. It was just man versus man; you get it or I get it, and they went and got it.”
With seconds left in the game, Army still had a shot, albeit a tough one. With the ball at the Navy 42, Monken sent in freshman quarterback Luke Langton; his pass was incomplete. Then tight end Kelvin White took his shot. His pass lofted into the left side of the end zone. No one on Navy tried to get heroic for an interception. They all just swatted at the ball. Incomplete. Another loss.