Just three months ago, it didn’t look as if the Navy football team would get the chance to play Arizona State in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park on Saturday.
The Midshipmen started the season 1-3 and starting quarterback Trey Miller was playing on a sore ankle.
Seemingly making things worse, with Navy trailing Air Force 21-14 in the fourth quarter, the team was forced to turn to freshman Keenan Reynolds in what was the biggest game of the season to that point.
Reynolds rallied the team to an overtime win in that game and Navy went on to win seven of its last eight games to become bowl-eligible with the freshman under center. Coach Ken Niumatalolo said he learned something about the young quarterback.
“A lot of people don’t like being stuck in that situation,” he said of Reynolds’ debut. “But he thrived in it and played very well. Played very cool and calm and collected. I was just super impressed that in big games, he’s played well.”
After a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2011, senior running back Bo Snelson said the track the team was on early caused him plenty of stress before the turnaround.
“There was a lot of worry,” he said. “There was a lot of missed sleep, lots of late phone calls to my dad wondering what I needed to do, how we were going to turn this around, what kind of spark we could find from anywhere. My dad had some solid advice. ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ That was kind of our motto for this year after a tough year last year.”
Navy stuck with its triple-option attack, putting three players over 600 rushing yards for the season and keeping defenses on their toes on every down. Reynolds only threw the ball 97 times on the season, but rushed 140 times for 628 yards, third on the team.
Snelson echoed Niumatalolo’s views on Reynolds’ presence in the huddle as the tide turned back in early October while on the road against Air Force.
“The kid didn’t even flinch,” he said of Reynolds’ debut. “Walked into the huddle and didn’t have an inspirational speech, didn’t have anything, but it was just like it was practice, like we were running team option any other day in Annapolis, but we’re in Colorado Springs playing the biggest game of our season, and obviously led us to victory.”
The Midshipmen will need Reynolds to display that coolness once again in what figures to be a high-scoring game against Arizona State on Saturday.