Annapolis, MD (Sept. 20, 2014) – Navy QB Keenan Reynolds fired the last shot of the game against their second Big Ten opponent this season to try to send the Mids into overtime or for a last second win, but it was a misfire as WR Jamir Tillman caught his pass out of bounds beyond the end zone, and Rutgers (3-1) held on to win against Navy, 31-24. It may have been a costly win for RU as leading RB Paul James suffered a knee injury in the second period and left on crutches after gaining 96 yards on his first seven carries. Reports came out on Monday that he suffered a torn ACL and is lost for the season. The result of the game was clearly won by the Scarlet Knights along both fronts. The offensive line dominated opening up holes to amass 284 yards, RU’s most since the 2007 International Bowl, in rushing. Defensively, the front seven thwarted Navy’s triple option rushing attack averaging 403 yards per game limiting them to 171 yards on 43 carries. What kept Navy in the game was a surprising passing game. Had Navy HC Ken Niumatalolo opened it up earlier and a little more often, his team may have put more points on the board against a suspect RU secondary. However, early misfires may have prompted him to stay on the ground longer than desired, but as the game went on, Reynold’s passes became more effective.
Navy (2-2) scored on its first possession after recovering a James’ fumble at the RU 25, and Reynolds (19 carries for 25 yards , two TDs/ 12 of 26 passing for 231 yards, 1 TD) ran in the first score from the one. The score remained 7-0 when Navy’s Nick Sloan went wide with a 40-yard FG attempt that could have extended the Navy lead, and at that point, the momentum seemed to shift to the Knights. On a fourth and two, James broke through a hole in the right side and raced down field for a 38-yard TD to tie the game, 7-7. Late in the period, Reynolds fumbled and put RU at Navy’s 36.
Kyle Federico did for RU what Sloan couldn’t do for Navy and put three on the board for a 20-yard FG to put the Knights in the lead, 10-7. On Rutgers’ next drive, James left the game for good, but Justin Goodwin (Madison, NJ) and Desmon Peoples (19 carries for 82 yards) stepped up effectively. QB Gary Nova (11 of 14 passing, 151 yards, two rushing TDs) plunged in from the one for 17-7 Scarlet Knight lead. Navy came right back with a 75-yard drive ending with Reynolds’ seven-yard TD run to narrow the gap. However, Rutgers’ o-line continued to dominate Navy’s defensive front and drove 91 yards. With: 27 left in the half, Goodwin (26 carries for 104 yards, 1 TD) took it over from the three for a 24-14 halftime lead. Under an intense sun the entire first half, we spent the intermission in the shade of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on the Gold side, where St. Laurie and I met with GGA Steve Ciesla who sat with Frank Scarpa who stayed in the bleachers commiserating with fellow RU fans.
Navy’s opening drive was highlighted by a 53 yard pass to Tillman down to the 27. Sloan converted with a 35-yard FG to close to 24-17. Rutgers started from its 37 with the aid of a 15-yard illegal block by the defense – never saw an illegal block called against a team without the ball. From there, Rutgers controlled the line of scrimmage and Nova took it in from the one once again to end the third period scoring for their 31-17 lead.
In the final period with 5:20 remaining, the Mids finished off a 75-yard scoring drive with a rare TD pass. WR Brenan Dudeck was left wide open in the end zone for a 14-yard TD reception. On RU’s ensuing possession, the Mids’ defense stopped the Knights in a third and one to force a rare three and out. They took over from the 26 with 3:12 left. Blue and Gold got down to the Scarlet 16, but sacks by second team safety Andre Hunt and DE Kemoko Turay put Navy back to the 36 with a fourth and 20 from where Reynolds took his final shot into the end zone that went for naught to end the Navy threat. Exciting finish! Unusual stats for both teams that learned a lot going into the balance of their seasons. RU can run the ball to keep mistake-prone QB Nova from forcing INTs. Can they continue to do it against better run defenses than Navy’s however without Paul James? It knows it can stop the run, but Rutgers still needs to shore up its secondary. Navy needs to sharpen up its passing game with some play action to take advantage of its run game to utilize its passing game more consistently which can be effective if needed.
Rutgers returns to High Point Solutions Stadium to finish its non-conference slate against Tulane (1-3) on Saturday at noon. Navy welcomes high-scoring Western Kentucky (1-2) now of Conference USA to Annapolis for a 3:30 kick off. Last year, the Hilltoppers defeated USNA, 19-7. CFF.com heads to Columbia, SC for our final Parents weekend there and for ESPN Game Day as the No. 13 Gamecocks (3-1, 0-1) host Missouri’s Tigers (3-1) in an SEC game kick off at 7 pm.
Extra points: With Rutgers win over Navy, the respective CFF.co records of both teams are 24-30 and 21-33. They are tied for second in appearances with 54. RU is second in wins with 24. Navy is first in losses with 33. With Navy’s admission into the American Athletic Conference next season, the teams are not scheduled to meet any time in the near future due to conference scheduling obligations.
It was a special weekend for us in Annapolis this weekend. Nick Rafferty, second team LB for Rutgers has been friends with our son Eric since kindergarten. Nicks’ father Frank and I coached both boys in Little League baseball for ten years. For Lenape Valley (NJ) High School, Nick played RB and Eric started at offensive tackle their senior year and finished with an 8-2 record. Frank and his wife Patty, who is responsible for making my “119” jersey that adorns the cover of “Tales from the Tailgate”, joined St. Laurie and me for the weekend to tailgate, go to the game, and tour Annapolis. Long time Guest Game analysts Steve Ciesla and Frank Scarpa joined us as well. Nick called Eric, now stationed at Norfolk Naval Base as an ITN, to offer him a will-call ticket to the game. Eric had no duty this weekend and was able to join us on Saturday. We didn’t expect to see him again until we visit him in two weeks down at Norfolk. He wore his Navy t-shirt and sat with Frank and Patty in the Rutgers parent section. He cheered for the Navy (would’ve cheered for Nick had he gotten into the game), and people around him wondered how he got his ticket. He told him that he’s a friend of Nick’s and that he’s an enlisted Navy guy, but not a Midshipman. He accepted defeat with grace in the end. We enjoyed tailgating, the weekend, and a post- game meeting with Nick before the RU team headed back home by bus. At LVRHS their senior year, Nick and Eric and the rest of the Patriots fell to Madison High School featuring Justin Goodwin (now in the RU backfield) in a one –point loss featured on MSG Varsity TV. A last second FG went wide for LVR to miss the chance to beat Madison, a top 20 team in the state, that evening. Nick’s RU roommate, Safety Andre Hunt, who came off the bench, made a critical sack of Keenan Reynolds on Navy’s final drive.
For breakfast on Sunday, we went to Chick and Ruth’s on Main Street an Annapolis for the first time. We had to wait outside for about 15 minutes, but it was worth it. It was featured on “Man vs. Food.” We’ll go back again. Try it when you get down there. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.