Navy rolled to a 33-11 victory over the Air Force Falcons on Saturday. It was a win in the first leg of the race for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. This was Navy's largest margin of victory in the series since 1978. The Mids were led by quarterback Keenan Reynolds who ran for 183 yards and threw for 117 passing yards and a touchdown. Reynolds broke a 54-yard run on the Mids opening possession to set up Chris Swain's 2-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0.
Navy's defense had a goal line stand the next series when they stopped the Falcons twice from the one yard line, changing the game. Navy on the following series recovered a Karson Roberts fumble and on the ensuing drive Reynolds hit wide receiver Thomas Wilson for a 27-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-0. The Mids extended the lead to 21-0 at the half. Air Force didn't get on the board until they hit a field goal late in the third quarter to make it 27-3. Karson Roberts added a touchdown run but Navy's Austin Grebe closed out the scoring with two field goals.
PASSING OFFENSE: C+
Keenan Reynolds completed 4-of-10 passes for 114 yards with a touchdown. Reynolds didn't have a great day throwing the ball in the tough conditions but made enough plays. On his first pass attempt he underthrew wide receiver Jamir Tillman who was wide open behind the Air Force secondary. Tillman tried to stop running but couldn't haul it in. Keenan missed a sure touchdown there.
With Air Force packing the box it was clear that to win Keenan would have to hit a few passes. The next drive Keenan Reynolds was able to find slotback DeBrandon Sanders for a 26-yard pass completion on third-and-9. Later in the same drive Keenan had wide receivers Thomas Wilson and Tyler Carmona running on post patterns. Keenan chose the wrong receiver when he underthrew the ball to Carmona and it was broken up. He made up for it the next play on third down when hit Thomas Wilson for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Wilson went up and made a nice leaping catch in the end zone. Wilson now has three career catches and two touchdowns.
Reynolds short armed an incomplete pass to fullback Chris Swain who was wide open on a third down pay. Chris probably would have picked up the first down. Reynolds was penalized for intentional grounding when a blitzer came free. It was a smart play because it could have been a safety if he was sacked.
Sanders drew a key pass interference penalty to keep the opening drive of the second half going. Navy was bailed out when Troy Calhoun took a holding penalty after a third down pass to Tillman was knocked down. Reynold hit Dishan Romine on third-and-17 for 31 yards. Romine made a nice adjustment to the ball. On Reynolds next pass attempt he was nearly sacked and had a passed knocked down near the goal line.
Reynolds best throw was when he hit Craig Scott on a perfect post pattern in stride for 33-yards to set up a field goal to make it 30-11. Navy's offensive line did allow two sacks but they gave Keenan enough time to make some plays. The weather and wind affected some of Reynolds passes but he made enough throws to make the Falcons pay for stuffing the box.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A
Navy ran for 270 rushing yards, 5.3 per carry and three touchdowns. Keenan Reynolds led the way with 24 carries for 183 rushing yards. He actually scored on one play but the officials and replay official missed it. Reynolds ripped off a 54-yard run on the Mids first play to help set up fullback Chris Swain (18 for 54, 2 TDs) two yard TD score. Reynold’s 67-yard run led to Demond Brown's one yard touchdown run off a pitch.
Slotback DeBrandon Sanders (3 for 22) broke off a 15-yard run on the opening touchdown drive of the second half. Dishan Romine (2 for 3) had trouble finding running room outside against the Falcons
which is par for the course since they do a good job limiting the slotbacks. Back up B-back Quentin Ezell had a quiet game with just three carries for seven yards as Swain saw more snaps. The offensive line had more penalties than usual but did a real good job handling a very good and aggressive AF defense.
PASSING DEFENSE: A
This was a far cry from last year. The Mids secondary allowed Karson Roberts to complete 5-of-12 passes for only 73 yards and intercepted a pass. Quincy Adams (8 tackles, 2 PD) helped shutout dangerous AF's wide receiver Jalen Robinette. Adams dropped a sure interception in the end zone. Cornerback Brandon Clemens (3 tackles, TFL, Int.) made a nice driving interception off a tipped pass.
Kwazel Betrand (8 tackles, 2 FR) played a great game at rover before being injured. Bertrand was able to recover two fumbles in his own end and helped stuff Davern at the goal line. His injury did not look good. Rover Lorentz Barbour posted seven tackles and didn't allow any deep balls over the top that plagued the Mids last year.
RUSHING DEFENSE: B+
The Mids did a good job against the Falcons running game as they allowed 204 rushing yards, a 3.6 yards a carry and a only one score. The goal line stand twice stuffing the Falcons from the 1-yard line set the tone. Inside linebacker Daniel Gonzalez (11 tackles) and then defensive end Will Anthony (8 tackles, TFL, 2 FF) both teamed with Betrand to stuff the Falcons on consecutive downs. Gonzalez led the Mids in tackles and made plays all day. Anthony forced two fumbles and AF will be glad to see him graduate. They have been unable to block him the last two years. Mike linebacker Micah Thomas missed some time after being shaken up but returned and posted seven tackles. Mike Kelly made his first start at striker and made three tackles. Amos Mason (6 tackles), Bernie Sarra (6 tackles) were busy but overall the Navy front aside from Anthony didn't do a great job coming off blocks and were helped by three lost fumbles. The Falcons , except for Garrett Brown, lacked top end speed and I was surprised to see some of their slow to develop option plays have some success. Raider linebacker D.J. Palmore had two tackles and a fumble recovery.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
Stop the presses; kicker Austin Grebe finally missed a kick! Grebe missed an extra point. It was his first miss of any kind since he took over last year. Grebe rebounded to close out the scoring by nailing both field goal attempts from 37 and 24 yards respectively. Punter Alex Barta made five punts for a 39.2 average in the rather tough conditions. He recovered nicely from a nearly disastrous bobbled snap to get a punt away. Dishane Romaine returned his only kickoff 15 yards. Calvin Cass returned a punt three yards. Navy's punt and kick coverage teams nearly allowed a few long returns. Austin Grebe had two touchbacks on his seven kickoffs. He had to make a tackle on a 30-yard kick return to save big play.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo's team was ready to play but without being too hyped up which has led to retaliation penalties in response to the Falcons chippy play we've seen in the past. Everyone talks about the Navy dominance over Army but since 2003 Navy is now 10-4 against the Falcons.
Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper knew the Mids needed to make plays through the air with AF covering the slotbacks with safeties and stuffing the box. Reynolds did just enough in the rough conditions. He called a great game.
Defensive coordinator Dale Pherson’s unit played well. I felt some of his guys struggled early in getting off blocks to make plays as AF option plays were rather slow to develop but still picked up yards. The defense benefited from the Falcons inability to hold the ball. They did tackle well, force turnovers and the goal line stand was one of the defining moments of the game.
OVERALL GRADE: A
Payback. Navy played an excellent game, avoided turnovers and took apart a good Falcons team easily by the biggest margin since 1978. That includes not just pre Fisher DeBerry but pre Ken Hatfield wishbone era at Air Force. This win puts Navy in line for Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to return at Annapolis.