Navy Learning To Win Close Games
By Michael Page
Keenan Reynolds is playing beyond his years. The freshman quarterback led Navy to its second come-from-behind win during its last three games, defeating Indiana last week, 31-30, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Reynolds led consecutive fourth-quarter drives, resulting in a field goal and a touchdown to erase a nine-point Indiana advantage for the win.
"This is his second start," Niumatalolo said. "He was actually missing some reads. He didn't play as well as he did last week, but to his credit, on that last drive, just very composed. He's a true freshman; we're down to a Big Ten team. He just methodically moved us down and finished the game great. He'll be the first one to tell you that he could have done some things better during the game, but the way he finished, I'm very happy for him."
The Midshipmen defense came up big during the fourth quarter, shutting out the Hoosiers during the final 12 minutes, 18 seconds to preserve the win.
"That's a good offense," Niumatalolo said. "They've scored points against everyone. They're a machine; we tried our best to stop them. We slowed them down. Things got a little discouraging at some point, because they scored so quickly on some of their drives. But to the coaches' credit, our defensive coaches and the players, we just continued grinding and made some big plays."
Reynolds, who is quickly showing that the Midshipmen may have found themselves an answer at quarterback for the next three years, showed once again that pressure does not faze him. After a clutch fourth-quarter defensive stop, the freshman stepped under center down six points with 4:48 to play and went to work. He efficiently led Navy 72 yards on the game-winning drive, culminating in a touchdown strike on third down to wide receiver Matt Aiken. Aiken, who missed the early part of the season because of injury, has returned and is making an impact.
"Matt's come back and made some big plays and I'm happy for him," Niumatalolo said, "because he worked so hard in the offseason, got hurt and he's rehabbed. He's worked really hard and I'm happy he was able to get back and make some big plays -- especially that last one."
Reynolds' knack for the come-from-behind win is a microcosm of how Navy has turned around its season. The Midshipmen lost their first two games, but have won their past three. Navy (4-3) now has a winning record for the first time this season and could be playing its way back to a bowl game.
"That's who these guys are," Niumatalolo said. "That's who these kids are. They're fighters, you know what I mean? You go through so much here. From the prep school to being a plebe, the rigors of being a student athlete here at the United States Naval Academy, it's hard. I couldn't have done it. I have so much respect for these young people who go to school here. They just continue to battle and to their credit, so I'm just super happy for them."
Five of the Midshipmen's seven losses last year were by four points or fewer. This season, they are learning to win the close games.
"We got to make sure that we do all the little things to win games," Niumatalolo said. "That's who we are. We know our games are going to be close; I was just proud of the guys. When we needed some stops, we got them, and when we needed some scores, we got it done."
The Midshipmen will be looking to extend their winning streak to four when they visit East Carolina Oct. 27. Navy has not had a four-game winning streak since it ended the 2010 campaign with four straight wins. Navy fell to East Carolina, 38-35, during their matchup last season at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Posted Oct. 25, 2012