Navy’s 44-28 win over Pitt was another NCAA record-setting day for quarterback Keenan Reynolds and a school record 11th victory this year, but there was a more significant takeaway from the Military Bowl presented by Northrup Grumann.
That was Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s presence on the sideline at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
It was a little less than two weeks ago that Niumatalolo considered taking the BYU job before he announced he would return to Annapolis for his ninth season in 2016. In an athletic age when coaches worry after 10 years that their voices no longer connect with their athletes, Niumatalolo apparently feels comfortable remaining at Navy.
The Midshipmen (11-2) certainly responded with the convincing win over Pitt (8-5), a Power 5 school, despite having to dig out of a sudden 7-0 hole.
The last time Navy faced a Power 5 team in a bowl game, the Midshipmen were unable to cope with Arizona State’s speed in the 2012 Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. The Sun Devils ran away with a 62-28 victory.
The memory reared its head on the opening kickoff when Pitt’s Quadree Henderson sprinted up the middle and ran away from the coverage for a 100-yard touchdown return.
— The Blue Pennant (@thebluepennant) December 28, 2015
But in the 2012 bowl loss, Reynolds was a freshman.
Now he’s a senior, running the triple-option offense, who can control the tempo of the game. The Midshipmen responded to Pitt’s sudden 7-0 lead with a long touchdown drive, a forced punt and then mounted another long scoring drive. The first was a 10-play, 75-yard march that Reynolds finished with 1- yard TD for his 86th career touchdown. The drive consumed 5 minutes, 20 seconds.
The second was a 14-play, 86-yard march following a Pitt punt with Reynolds scoring on a 5-yard run, his 87th career TD. The drive consumed 6:47 to move the game into the second quarter with the Midshipmen leading 14-7.
By the end of the day, Reynolds led Navy in rushing, passing and receiving and regained possession of his NCAA touchdowns record with three on the day for 88 in his career.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder ran 24 times for 144 yards and three touchdowns, completed 9 of 17 passes for 126 yards and one TD and caught one pass for 47 yards. That led the Midshipmen in yardage, although Demond Brown and DeBrandon Sanders both caught two passes for 30 yards. Tyler Carmona also had two catches, including the TD reception. Navy had two 100-yard rushers as Chris Swain finished with 27 carries for 114 yards.
Reynolds previously set the NCAA career record for overall touchdowns with 85 when he scored twice on Dec. 12 in the Army-Navy Game. But Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon enjoyed a late-season surge that included four touchdowns in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 20 against Arkansas State to set the record at 87 in his final game.
For Pitt and first-year coach Pat Narduzzi, the bowl appearance concluded a successful season no matter the result of the game. Pitt’s eight wins in the regular season followed four straight years of hovering around the .500 mark with 6-7 marks in 2014, 2012 and 2011 and 7-6 in 2013.
The Panthers also asserted themselves in the ACC Coastal with a second-place finish to No. 10-ranked North Carolina. Pitt had climbed to a No. 23 ranking and 6-1 overall record before losing to North Carolina. But the Panthers’ 6-2 record stood up for second place by one game over third-place Duke (7-5, 5-3), a team Pitt defeated convincingly at midseason when the battle for the Coastal lead was still up for grabs.
Pitt was hurt by turnovers as quarterback Nathan Peterman was 13 of 21 for 137 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Qadree Ollison was the leading rusher with eight carries for 73 yards and one TD.