Middle Tennessee could have used more preparation time for the 11th annual Armed Foces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Navy’s triple-option attack proved too much to handle as the Midshipmen beat the Blue Raiders 24-6 on Monday in front of a chilly crowd of 39,246.
“It’s hard to simulate on the scout team what Navy does,” Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said.
Navy rushed for 366 yards and set a Armed Forces Bowl record with 21 first downs rushing. Sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds led the Mids (9-4) with two rushing touchdowns and 86 yards on 20 carries.
Reynolds was the Navy MVP, and finished the season with 31 rushing touchdowns. That tied him for this year’s FBS lead with lead Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs.
Reynolds is just the fourth FBS player to reach 30 TDs. Barry Sanders had 37 at Oklahoma State, and Montee Ball of Wisconsin had 33.
“You just say the name Barry Sanders, you can stop right there,” Reynolds said. “Probably the greatest college football player there was. Just to be in the conversation with guys like that is a humbling experience.”
Middle Tennessee (8-5) stayed in the game much of the day, trailing 10-6 to start the fourth quarter. But Navy pulled away in the final 15 minutes by driving 80 yards for a touchdown. A Blue Raiders turnover led to the final touchdown.
“We knew going in there was going to be a limited amount of possessions,” Stockstill said. “Navy only averages 9.9 per game this year, so we knew they were going to be limited. Once it got to a two-score game, we knew it was going to be hard.”
The Blue Raiders came up a yard short on fourth-and-2 early in the third quarter, and quarterback Logan Kilgore threw on interception two plays after Navy had made it 17-6 in the fourth quarter.
“You know, we said it all week, can’t turn the ball over against these guys,” Kilgore said. “We knew, like Coach said, possessions were going to be limited.”
Reynolds threw the ball just seven times for 19 yards, but two completions went for first downs. He also lost two fumbles, and sat out three plays in the third quarter after being poked in the eye.
The Blue Raiders were flagged four times for unsportsmanlike conduct. Linebacker Roderic Blunt was ejected in the fourth quarter after his second offense.
“We can only take care of our end of the bargain,” Reynolds said. “Execute on offense, and can’t really worry about different things being said or different things being done.”
Navy established its game plan in the first half, churning out 125 rushing yards on 31 carries and consuming nearly 18 minutes of clock time en route to the 10-6 lead.
In all, Navy had five drives of 10 plays or more. Three resulted in 17 points; the other were Reynolds fumbles.
Navy running back DeBrandon Sanders added the last score on a 41-yard run with 9:16 left. Navy used nine rushers in the game.
“We’re going to take what people give us. It’s kind of been our thing all year,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “There are a lot of guys that carry the ball, and we’re an unselfish team.”