The Navy Midshipmen (11-2, 7-1 ACC) defeated the Pitt Panthers (8-5, 6-2 ACC) 44-28 in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium this past Monday. Navy allowed Pitts Quadree Henderson to return the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Navy scored the next 31 unanswered points as they built a 31-7 lead midway through the third quarter. Pittsburgh rallied with two quick touchdowns after Nate Peterman threw a four-yard scoring pass to Ollison. The next play Pitt's Jordan Whitehead returned a Chris Swain fumble return 22-yard for a touchdown to get Pitt within 10 points. After trading touchdowns, Navy clinched the win when quarterback Keenan Reynolds scored his third touchdown of the game on a 9-yard scoring run with 4:19 remaining. It was his 88th career touchdown allowing him to set the mark for the most touchdowns scored ever in Division I history. Keenan ran for 144 rushing yards and ended his brilliant career with 4,559 rushing yards which are the most by a quarterback in Division I history. The Mids completed their first 11-win season in 135 years of playing football.
PASSING OFFENSE: A
Keenan Reynolds completed 9-of-17 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. Reynolds took advantage of Pitt's odd man front and their selling out against the run to make plays over the heads. On the opening touchdown drive, he rolled out and hit Jamir Tillman (2 rec., 27 yards)for a 12-yard gain. Reynolds opened the second drive hitting Demond Brown (2 rec., 30 yards) for a 26-yard gain. He had Tyler Carmona running wide open on the post during the same play. Later in the series, he was late trying to hit Romine on the A-pop down the seam.
On third-and-8 Reynolds retreated and hit a wide open DeBrandon Sanders (2 rec., 30 yards) for 16-yards to pick up a first down and keep the touchdown drive alive. On the following series, he threw two incompletions under pressure but did hit the A-pop this time to Toneo Gulley who made a very nice catch while getting hit for a 16-yard gain.
Reynolds made a nice third-down scramble to keep the next drive alive and hit Tyler Carmona (2 rec., 23 yards, TD) for 12-yards and a first down. After overthrowing Brown on a screen pass, he connected with Sanders two plays later on a wheel route for 14-yards. Keenan finished the drive with a nice play action fake and hit a wide open Carmona in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown reception.
Navy fullback Shawn White hit Reynolds on an option pass for a 47-yard gain to set up Brown's scoring run. The next series Reynolds was late on the A-pop under pressure and overthrew Sanders. The Mids settled for a field goal. They tried the same seam play to open the following possession but Reynolds overthrew a covered Sanders.
Jamir Tillman redeemed himself after a holding penalty on the previous running play by catching a 15-yard pass to set up a key fourth down conversion. Reynolds stumbled on third down but scrambled from pressure and hit Brown on a four-yard screen pass that was short of the first down but the Mids once again converted and ended the drive with a touchdown. The Navy offensive line did a great job allowing no sacks against a Pitt front seven that had recorded 37 sacks his years coming into the game. Reynolds ended up leading the team in rushing, passing and receiving. It is only the second time that has happened in the FBS since 2000.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A+
Navy ran for 417 rushing yards, averaged 5.9 yards a carry and scored five times. Keenan Reynolds ended his brilliant career with a masterpiece as he made the right calls all day. Pitt's talented defense had no answers as they only forced one punt. Keenan Reynolds ran 24 times for 144 yards and scored three times.
Navy B-back Chris Swain rushed 27 times for 114 yards. Swain had a huge third down carry on third-and-6 as he ran for six yards dragging defenders the series after his costly fumble was returned for a score by Pitt to narrow the score to 31-21. Backup fullback Quentin Ezell carried four times for eight yards.
The drive ended with slotback Toneo Gulley 's (3 att, 20 yards, TD) 15-yard touchdown where he showed his speed as he burst through the hole. Dishan Romine (4 att., 84 yards) ripped off a 43-yard gain to set up the final score. Demond Brown (4 att., 32 yards, TD) made a spectacular dive at the end of his 26-yard touchdown run to hit the pylon. Calvin Cass Jr. (2 att, 10 yards) had a first down run on the drive that ended with Carmona's touchdown reception. Jamir Tillman had a seven-yard gain on a reverse.
PASSING DEFENSE: A+
Navy's secondary did an outstanding job playing their bend but don’t break scheme to perfection. They picked off Pitt’s Nate Peterman three times. Peterman had thrown just two interceptions since the middle of September. The Mids allowed Peterman to complete 13-of-21 passes for just 147 passing yards with one touchdown. Cornerback Brandon Clements (2 tackles, 2 INT, PD) had an outstanding game and kept NFL prospect Tyler Boyd in check all game. He personally helped end three drives with two picks and a pass breakup on the opening offensive series with an excellent burst to the ball. Lorentez Barbour (4 tackles, INT) ended his career playing his best football. He picked off a pass for the second consecutive game. Cornerback Quincy Adams did a good job in coverage and tied for the team lead with five tackles.
RUSHING DEFENSE: C+
The Mids allowed Pitt 198 rushing yards and a 9.4 average but only one touchdown. Pitt was able to break off some big run plays but the Mids defense stopped Pitt on their first five possessions to build a 31-7 lead after the Panthers kickoff return touchdown. Micah Thomas tied for team lead with five tackles. Ted Colburn (5 tackles, TFL) played one of his best games. He had a key tackle for a loss on Ollison during a second-and-one to force a failed third down conversion attempt and a punt. Daniel Gonzalez had a quiet game with three tackles. Daiquan Thomasson posted four tackles. Will Anthony closed his great career with a solo tackle but held up well at the point along with captain Bernie Sarra (2 tackles). Jarvis Polu brought down Peterman after a very short third down scramble to stop a drive which ended in a missed chip shot field goal attempt by Pittsburgh.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
Well, not everything was great. Austin Grebe hit his 35-yard field goal attempt. Punter Alex Barta shanked his only attempt which traveled just 13 yards. The kickoff coverage team allowed a 100-yard kickoff return to Quadree Henderson. Even though they played better after that breakdown the coverage units had a miserable second half of the season. Dishan Romine had one nice 27-yard kickoff return. Calvin Cass Jr. returned his only punt for just one yard.
Aren’t you glad head coach Ken Niumatalolo stayed? Despite the distraction of his visit to explore the BYU coaching job, the Mids were primed and ready to roll. Navy won its third consecutive bowl game appearance. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper had a virtually perfect day where everything worked including the fullback option pass. Navy rolled up 590 yards of offense. It was their most yards in a game since 2010 against East Carolina. Defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson unit played a terrific game as well allowing only 14 points. They shut down the Panthers on their first five offensive possessions to allow the offense jump out of a 31-7 lead.
OVERALL GRADE: A
I had no idea what ESPN’s TV color man Rocky Boiman was discussing when he kept using the old outdated Navy cliches of the Mids playing hard and being out-athlete in the fourth quarter against Pitt. Memo to Boiman this isn’t 1995. This Navy team will end the season as a top twenty team and they played the part in outclassing Pitt. This is the first 11 win team in Navy football history and they are a legit top twenty team. This was a Navy team for the ages with a legit Heisman Trophy candidate. As Keenan Reynolds said, 'We can come back for our 20-year reunion and talk about it and just kick back and laugh.'' What a team.