Houston Cougar quarterback Greg Ward Jr. threw for 308 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Cougars to a 52-31 win over the #15 Navy Midshipmen (9-2, ACC 7-1). #21 Houston (11-1, 7-1 American) clinched the West Division title and will host either Temple or South Florida in the championship game. Navy's defense which entered the game the top scoring defense in the AAC could not stop the Cougars on third and fourth down as Greg Ward made plays all day with his arm and legs. The teams traded touchdowns early. Ward then led Houston, with the score tied 14-14, on a 11 play 75 yard drive and scored a touchdown to make it 21-14 off a five yard scramble. Navy was forced to punt on their next series and Houston used a nice 28-yard touchdown return by DeMarcus Ayers and two scrambles by Ward to set up kicker Ty Cummings career long 45-yard field goal as the half expired to give Houston a 24-14 halftime lead. Reynolds was picked off on the opening series of the second half off a unlucky deflection. Houston scored to take a commanding 31-14 as both teams traded scores the rest of the way as Navy's defense could not get the Cougars off the field. Navy will now get ready to play Army in America's game December 12.
PASSING OFFENSE: A+
Keenan Reynolds completed 13-of-16 passes for a career high 312 passing yards with a touchdown. Reynolds suffering his first interception this year off a unlucky tipped pass. Keenan battled through the air to keep the Mids in the game with Houston shutting down the Mids running game much of the day and Navy trailing. His first pass was a 9-yard screen to Shawn White. With Houston rolling their safeties to stop the pitch Navy went up top the next series. Reynolds made a great throw as he hit Tyler Carmona for 41 yards. It was the first career reception by Carmona. Two plays later he found a wide open Jamir Tillman (5 rec., 162 yds., TD) off an out pattern who could have walked in on a 25-yards reception for the touchdown to tie the score at 14-14. Reynolds set a Navy record with his 29th career TD pass on that throw. The next series Reynolds was on target again hitting DeBrandon Sanders (2 rec., 51 yds.) on third down for a 20- yard gain.
The second half opened with Reynolds being intercepted under pressure on a tipped ball. It was a good throw but Houston linebacker Malveaux running with his back to the play stuck out his arm and it deflected to Trevon Stewart for the interception. It was a unfortunate play as the Cougars were both lucky and good. Reynolds just missed Thomas Wilson in the end zone for a score but Houston was called for holding and the Mids ended up settling or a field goal. Down 38-17 late in the third quarter Navy was forced to pass almost every down. Despite being sacked three times Reynolds continued to make plays. He opened the next series hitting Tillman for 49 yards. After being sacked for a 12 yard loss he missed Romine on an out pattern. Reynolds then rolled out and checked down to Toneo Gulley for a 14-yard gain to set up a fourth-and-8. He made a great 23-yard throw off waggle action on the move to hit Thomas Wilson inside the 10-yard line to keep the drive alive and set up a touchdown.
After another Houston touchdown, Reynolds made his best pass as he scrambled away from pressure reversed his field and hit Tillman in stride in a small window for a 39-yard gain. After another sack Reynolds hit Chris Swain in the flat for 12 yards. Reynolds, facing a third-and-20 after a fumble and a sack, under pressure, hit Sanders with a great throw across his body for 31 yards to the Houston four to set up his own touchdown run. With little time left on the final series Keenan overthrew Camona deep then hit Tillman for 9 and 39 yards as time expired with Navy inside the Houston 10-yard line.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D
Navy had trouble against Houston's athletic defense as it ran for only 147 yards, a 3.9 average and three rushing touchdowns. Navy had just eight rushing first downs. Houston did a great job in limiting the slotbacks and beating Navy up front after the opening drive. Keenan Reynolds rushed for 84 yards on 19 carries and scored a touchdown. It was his 83rd career touchdown to match the FBS record set by Wisconsin's Montee Ball. Navy B-back Chris Swain ran just 6 times for 27 yards but scored twice. Quentin Ezell (2 atts., 2 yds.) and Shawn White (2 atts., 5 yds.) both found little running room inside. DeBrandon Sanders had three carries for only two yards. Slotback Dishane Romine had the longest run by the A-backs of just 10-yards. Romine carried three times for 22 yards. Demond Brown made a diving fourth down leap over a Houston defender for three yards to keep Navy's last touchdown drive alive. It was a nice play for the first down even if the spot was generous. Jamir Tillman was only able to gain three yards on a third down reverse as Houston stayed at home and Navy was forced to punt.
PASSING DEFENSE: D
Navy's defense could not stop Greg Ward Jr. on third down and fourth down as Houston converted 18-of-21 attempts. Houston threw four touchdowns and Ward completed 26-of-35 passes for 308 yards and three scores.
Brandon Clements (9 tackles, PD) battled but missed a chance at a interception Navy really needed and the deflection was caught by Houston for a huge gain. Rover Daiquan Thomasson (8 tackles, PD) was late with the help on Bonner's touchdown reception of an option pass from Ayers. Cornerback Quincy Adams (8 tackles, 2 1/2 TFL) allowed two touchdown passes. Will Anthony made 4 tackles, a sack, two tackles for a loss and a posted a quarterback hurry. Houston was able to get away with holding him on some key third down plays as the officals allowed the Cougars offensive line to hold all day. Josiah Powell had a tackle and a quarterback hurry. He had a rough game missing Ward when he went high blowing a sack and allow a key third down conversion. Lorentez Barbour had five tackles and broke up a pass in end zone but like the rest of the Navy secondary had a rough day in coverage. Amos Mason (2 tackles, 2 TFL, QBH) had nice hit on Ward to force a Houston incompletion on third down and their only punt.
RUSHING DEFENSE: D
The Mids allowed Houston 218 rushing yards, a 5.0 average and three rushing touchdowns. The Mids defense played its worse game of the season. Ward killed them with key third down scrambles as the Mids missed tackles or on a few occasions were held. Early in the game Navy did a good job on first and second down but forced just one punt all day. Navy had been able to make AAC passing teams one dimensional all year but was out manned by the Cougars. On Friday they struggled to get off blocks all day. Dan Gonzalez returned to the lineup with seven tackles. Micah Thomas posted six tackles and broke up a pass. Nose guard Bernie Sarra had a busy day with six tackles and one tackle for a loss.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
Kicker Austin Grebe hit from 39- yards out. Grebe kicked off five times and had one touchback. Grebe did a nice job on the on side kick but no Mid made a real play on high hop. Punter Alex Barta averaged 44.5 yards on two punts. Dishane Romine averaged 24.6 on five kick returns and had a nice 31-yard kickoff return. Toneo Gulley had a 26 yard kick return. Mids did a good job on kick coverage but Ayers 28 yard punt return from inside his own five set up the field goal before the half and really hurt.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo said it best ''Our kids battled hard and did some things, but they made a ton of plays,'' Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ''We had a hard time. The difference in the game was that we couldn't get them off the field. 16-for-19 on third downs, and they converted all of their fourth downs. We played decent on first and second down, but we could not get them off the field on third downs. It just killed us.'' Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper was forced to go to the passing game after the Mids struggled and fell behind.
They still put up 31 points and 459 yards of offense. Defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson's had to be disappointed in his unit which forced only one punt all day and couldn't get Houston off the field on third down.
OVERALL GRADE: C
The Mids are having a great season and one for the ages. It was disappointing in how they lost more so than that they came up short. The poor performance of the defense, which had impressed all year, was a huge disappointment. Keenan Reynolds showed why he deserves Heisman Trophy recgnition with his 312 yard passing day. Time to get ready for Army.