- Filed Under
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Navy was staring at a 10-0 deficit midway through the second quarter, had run just 16 mostly ineffective offensive plays and recorded only two first downs.
Keenan Reynolds knew the Midshipmen needed an offensive spark, and the freshman quarterback's 48-yard tackle-breaking jaunt provided the necessary ignition.
Reynolds finished with 159 rushing yards and a touchdown and threw two scoring passes to Brandon Turner, helping Navy beat Florida Atlantic 24-17 on Saturday for its fifth straight victory.
Once Reynolds started calling his own number in the huddle, the Midshipmen flourished, rolling up 393 offensive yards, 246 of them on the ground.
"They had a great game plan coming in," Reyonlds said. "We had to make some adjustments on the sideline. Once we got rolling, (we) figured out what we can and can't run on that defense. ... Once we got some momentum going, we were able to execute."
By winning in their first game against the Owls (2-7), the Midshipmen (6-3) earned a spot in the Dec. 29 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, where they will face a Pac-12 opponent. It will be the ninth bowl appearance in 10 years for Navy, which started the season 1-3.
"It is special for our kids," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "But we are going to prepare as we always do. I am excited for our guys to go to a bowl game, especially our seniors."
Reynolds completed 8 of 15 passes for 147 yards, as the Midshipmen made up for their slow start by scoring on four consecutive possessions.
But Navy had to hold on after Jonathan Wallace's second touchdown of the game, a 3-yard fourth-quarter scamper, got the Owls within seven points with 9:07 left.
Wallace finished with 111 yards on 28 carries, but the Owls are still searching for their first consecutive victories under first-year coach Carl Pelini.
"I think if you had said coming into this season that we were going to come to Navy and bring this game down to the wire, you would have told me I was crazy," Pelini said. "But that's who this team is and they keep getting better, they keep working. We've got three more weeks to continue to get better."
Since taking over as Navy's starting quarterback four games ago, Reynolds has passed for eight touchdowns and run for five more. He briefly left the game with about 12 minutes remaining with a left elbow injury, but later returned.
"I'm fine," Reynolds said when asked about the injury. "I really don't know what it is."
Graham Wilbert completed 25 of 35 passes for 205 yards for Florida Atlantic.
Navy's five-game winning streak is its first since 2009.
Wilbert connected on nine of his first 10 passes, helping the Owls take a 7-0 lead on a methodical 15-play drive that featured only one play longer than nine yards and chewed nearly eight minutes off the clock. Wallace scored on a right-side run from 1 yard out on the second play of the second quarter.
Mitch Anderson sneaked a low, 53-yard kick over the crossbar for a 10-0 lead, tying Mark Myers' record set in 2003 for the longest field goal in school history.
Wilbert said the game plan was to take what Navy gave the Owls, pecking away instead of going for the big gainer.
Early on, it worked to perfection.
"We definitely ran the ball consistently," Wilbert said. "It was four, five, six consistent yards like that. When we're doing that, it makes everything easier because they've got to respect the run more and put more guys in the box to stop that, and that opens things up for us in the passing game."
Reynolds' long run finally breathed some life into the Navy offense by moving the ball to Florida Atlantic's 33-yard line. Four plays later, Reynolds found Turner cutting through the left side of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown pass.
On the next possession, the Owls turned the ball over on downs at Navy's 15, and the Midshipmen needed only 2:03 to go ahead 14-10 on Reynolds' 1-yard keeper with 7 seconds left in the first half.
On the opening drive of the second half, Navy marched 67 yards on nine plays, capped by a 31-yard strike from Reynolds to Turner.
Navy's Kwazel Bertrand recovered Damian Fortner's fumble at midfield on the next possession, and the Midshipmen turned the turnover into a 20-yard field goal by Nick Sloan for a 24-10 lead with 2:08 remaining in the third quarter.
After Reynolds departed with the apparent left arm injury, backup quarterback Trey Miller took over and fullback Prentice Christian fumbled, with the Owls' Trevon Coley recovering. It took Florida Atlantic seven plays to cut the lead to 24-17 on Wallace's 3-yard TD run.
Reynolds returned for Navy's next series and drove the Midshipmen to the Owls' 34, where Sloan missed a 51-yard field goal try. Florida Atlantic then got as far as the Navy 22, where Wilbert's fourth-down pass fell incomplete.