Navy downs Pitt at a record-setting day at The Military Bowl, 44-28
Annapolis, Maryland (December 28, 2015) – Pitt’s Quadree Henderson got the scoring started from the opening kickoff at The Military Bowl sponsored by Northrop Grumman with a 100-yard return for a touchdown, but it was all Navy after that for the next 45 minutes as the Mids won their first bowl as a member of the American Athletic Conference and third in three years, 44-28, for the first time ever in 135 years of Naval Academy football. For Navy, the victory established team and individual career records for the No. 21 rated team in the CFP poll. Navy’s final record of 11-2 overall set the USNA mark for most wins ever in a single season. During the game, senior QB Keenan Reynolds broke two major career NCAA records with his 144 rushing yards and three TDs against a tough Pitt Panther defense that ranked 20th against the run. Reynolds surpassed the mark set by Denard Robinson of Michigan for most career rushing yards by a QB finishing his career with 4,559 yards on the ground. His three TDs beat the NCAA record of Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Nixon by one with his 88th. After five bowl losses by AAC teams to start this bowl season, Navy gave their conference foes something to cheer about along with most of the 36,352 in attendance today at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Against Pitt coached by Pat Narduzzi, former DC at Michigan State, the 44 points exceeded all other opponents of Pitt’s 8-5 2015 season.
After Pitt’s opening score, Guest Game Analyst Brian Donnelly reminded the rest of us that South Florida had done the same thing earlier in the season at Annapolis when we attended that game won by the Mids, 29-17. This lead did not last as long as that one as Reynolds scored touchdowns on Navy’s first two drives from the one and from the five. The second tied him with Nixon. The Mids dominated the first quarter of play in time of possession, 12:07 to 2:53.
In the second, Pitt’s first possession resulted in a FG attempt wide left by Chris Blewitt (always loved that name for a kicker). Their next drive was stopped on an INT by Safety Lorentez Barbour to start Navy from its 16. The drive by the Mids resulted in an 11-yard TD pass from Reynolds to Tyler Carmona for a 21-7 lead. Pitt’s next drive finished in the end zone with a pick by CB Brendon Clements to start Navy on its 15 before the half came to an end.
Good tailgating before the game that was played on a cold, windy, damp day. We agreed that we were all spoiled by the great weather we enjoyed all season long. Brian, Navy Al, Jay, and Dave had the grill going when I got there after finding impromptu parking again at our favorite neighbors on Locust Road. The parking lot at Navy-Marine Corps was half occupied by huge party tents and the pregame parade snarled traffic, so traffic was slower for the 2:30 kickoff and parking was tight. The guys had wings, ribs, and chili warmed up when I got there to make the four-hour drive well worth it alone! Lots of Pitt fans showed up. The stadium was packed. No game programs could be found before the game or during halftime. Concession lines were long to say the least. A guy showed up late in the game as Jay pointed him out to me so I was able to add to my bowl collection with the last of two he still had. I couldn’t go home without one. Brian saw one after the game on the floor of the men’s room but chickened out eventually.
Navy took the second half kick and finished with a 26-yard sweep option right for a touchdown by SB Desmond Brown. The next USNA possession resulted in a 34-yard FG by Austin Grebe for a dominant 31-7 lead over the Panthers. Pitt’s offense finally got on the board with a five-yard TD pass from Nate Peterman to RB Qadree Ollison. No harm done seemingly until Frosh DB Jordan Whitehead plucked a fumble out of the air by Navy FB Chris Swain (27 carries for 114 yards) and returned it 22 yards for a TD with 2:57 left in Q3. Suddenly, Pitt was back in the game, 31-21. At the end of the period, it was announced that Reynolds had broken Denard Robinson’s QB rushing record.
In the fourth, SB Toneo Gulley finished off a 69-yard Navy drive with a 15-yard run to the right to give Navy a more comfortable 38-21 lead. But Pitt’s Ollison cut it to ten again with his 45-yard TD jaunt, 38-28. Starting from their 25, Navy poised again to score at the Panthers’ nine. Reynolds dropped back to pass and his receivers drew the Pitt secondary toward both sidelines, and with that, he tucked the ball and ran it right up the gut for a 44-28 lead and the NCAA scoring mark of 88 TDs and 530 career points. The point after was blocked, and the Navy D stopped Pitt as it had done most of the day before running out the clock for their record-setting 11th victory of the Navy football season. It was certainly a great one.
The Pitt band played their alma mater, and the Navy players finished off their fine tradition by leading fans, alumni, and a small contingent of fellow Mids (most were away on Christmas leave) in their alma mater, “Navy Blue and Gold”. It would be the last time singing it for 32 Navy seniors who will graduate from the Academy as the winningest team ever. Keenan Reynolds was voted the game’s MVP accordingly and attributed his success to his teammates around him in a post-game interview.
Next year, Navy opens their season here with a plethora of new starters against Fordham. What works well in their favor, however, will be the return of their HC Ken Niumatalolo, who thankfully declined the offer from BYU to stay with a great, unique program that he has built and one he truly loves. We look forward to more great seasons of Navy football with him at “the helm”. However, before we see another Navy football game, we’ll see at least three more games as we fly out early tomorrow (Tuesday) morning on our way to the Russell Athletic Bowl to see Baylor and North Carolina light up the score board. Bears and Tar Heels – here we come!