PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - I hope those watching the 113th Army/Navy game Saturday afternoon didn’t come away from the game thinking “if (Navy QB) Keenan Reynolds is doing this already, imagine what he could do for the next three years.”
It’s not as if it isn’t possible that the true freshman from Antioch, TN doesn’t have grand heights attainable during his next three years of eligibility in Annapolis. It’s just that when a teenager accomplishes what Reynolds did Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, it deserves to stand alone without any future context.
The United States Naval Academy has made wins over the United States Military Academy a bit of habit in recent years, claiming 11 straight victories. Most haven’t been quite as gut-wrenching as Saturday’s 17-13 victory.
Before Saturday, Navy hadn’t trailed Army in the fourth quarter of any game since 2001-the year Army last defeated the Midshipmen. This time the contest moved past the midway point of the fourth quarter with the Black Knights not only leading Navy 13-10, but also in possession of the football inside the Navy 20 yard line.
It was a situation wholly unprecedented for any Navy player, but it would take only eight plays for the nervous energy hanging over the Brigade of Midshipmen to turn into an exuberant celebration. More importantly, it would take four particularly key plays from Reynolds that won’t soon by forgotten by military faithful. It would take an uncommon level of confidence, moxie and ability from a young man his age to make it happen.
“Before the drive started, I told the guys, ‘this is the one’” Reynolds explained after the game. “We have to go down and score. They all looked at me and were like, ‘Let’s go!’”
“Keenan comes in, uses his man voice and calls the play, and does a really good job” WR Brandon Turner added. “And the way he talks and the way his huddle prescense is, because I played quarterback in high school so I know how important that is to what extent, he makes you want to believe in him.”
Facing 4th & 5 from the Navy 19 yard line, Army chose to trot out K Eric Osteen for a 37 yard field goal attempt instead of attempting a conversion that would leave them tantalizingly close to a game sealing touchdown. The kick would sail wide left and give the Midshipmen the ball back with 6:57 to play. The Mids would immediately find trouble, but Reynolds connected with Geoffrey Whiteside for 10 yards on 3rd & 8 to reverse fortune and gain momentum. He wouldn’t look back.
Two plays later, Reynolds escaped a crowded pocket and juked a defender before tip-toeing down the right sideline to gain 11 yards and another first down. He then through a beautiful downfield ball to Turner that the 6’4″ receiver would easily haul in 49 yards downfield to set up a 1st and goal from the Army 8 yard line. The receiver would later describe the throw as the best he had received from Reynolds all season.
On the very next play, Reynolds waltzed into the endzone on a quarterback follow to punctuate an incredible game-turning drive and fully etch his name in Army-Navy lore.
The situation was unusual for Navy against Army, but it wasn’t the first time in Reynolds’ short tenure as Navy’s starting quarterback that he was faced with adversity. In fact, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said after the game he wasn’t surprised at all by the remarkable heroics of the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“If he can come into the Air Force game down by eight in the fourth quarter with eight minutes left at their place and have clear eyes and not miss a beat and not seem nervous, I don’t know if he can be in a tougher situation.”
Reynolds worked mop-up duty for the Mids in early season blowout losses to Notre Dame (in Dublin, Ireland) and at Penn State. He entered a hopeless situation in the 4th quarter of a shutout loss to San Jose State in the Mids’ fourth game of the season as well. But he didn’t officially become the Naval Academy’s starting quarterback until the Midshipmen were desperate.
Sitting at 1-3 on the season, the Midshipmen found themselves 9:03 away from losing grip on their most significant preseason goals in Colorado Springs, CO October 6. They trailed Air Force 21-13, with a loss assuring they could not win back the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy from the Falcons and meaning they would have to finish the season 5-2 just to get bowl eligible. Niumatalolo benched then starter Trey Miller in favor of Reynolds, who quickly navigated a six play, 75 yard drive that would tie things up after a two point conversion by FB Noah Copeland. Reynolds would put together another TD drive in overtime to finish off the Falcons and completely turn Navy’s season around.
Niumatalolo described Navy’s win Saturday as “indicative of the season” they had. Perhaps in no way more than in the resolution of their freshman quarterback. When everything mattered most, the young man was absolutely unflappable.
Keenan Reynolds isn’t even yet 19 years old.
It’s hard to fathom the type of poise it took to author a comeback. It’s hard to put into words the intensity of an Army/Navy game. It’s hard to imagine a young man roughly six months removed from prom clinging to the term “I.M.A.N-It’s Not About Me” in the waining moments to give his team salvation. (Reynolds said I.M.A.N. has been a rallying cry for the entire Navy football program this season.)
“There’s something about the kid, and just the way he led us on that last drive, it was unbelievable” Turner described. “In one of the biggest games as a freshman, he came in and beat one of the better Army teams the last few years. That’s incredible. That’s remarkable.”
I couldn’t say it any better.