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Reynolds and Navy run past Pitt 44-28

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Keenan Reynolds wrapped up his record-setting college career in spectacular fashion, running for three scores and throwing for another Monday to lead No. 21 Navy past Pitt 44-28 in the Military Bowl.

Annapolis, MD—Four guys not named Keenan Reynolds were recognized in New York City as Heisman candidates just two weeks ago.

Navy’s do-it-all senior quarterback took that snub out on Pitt Monday afternoon, as he guided his No. 21 Midshipmen to a 44-28 win over the Panthers at the Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Reynolds led Navy (11-2) in rushing yards, receiving yards and passing yards, as he garnered 317 of his team’s 590 total yards, adding four touchdowns—including a 9-yard scamper to pay dirt that capped a 9-play, 75-yard drive to ice the game—giving the Midshipman a 16-point advantage.

Reynolds’ final trip to the end zone also marked his most historic in a Navy academy uniform, as it marked the 88th score of his career, which now leads the NCAA for all-time touchdowns in a career.

“He’s a super football player, make no mistake. There was a reason he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy,” said Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi. “He throws for a touchdown, he rushes for three and he makes a heck of a catch. He’s a really good football player.”

Pitt (8-5) started the game off as good as one could, with Quadree Henderson returning a 100-yard opening kickoff to the house, but it would mark the Panthers only touchdown until the 3:14 mark of the 3rd quarter. That’s when Nate Peterman hit Qadree Ollison on a 4-yard pass-and-catch to make it a 31-14 deficit, as Navy used two Reynolds rushing touchdowns—and a Reynolds TD pass—to build as much as a 24-point advantage in that span.

Pitt’s Peterman finished his day 13 of 21 with 137 yards and three interceptions, while Ollison led the Panthers otherwise struggling offense with 73 yards and one touchdown. The freshman’s 45-yard dash with 9:35 left in the game capped Pitt’s best drive of the game, a 4-play, 73-yard push in just 1:23.

The Pitt offense accumulated just 335 total yards on 42 plays.

“They shut down our offense in the first half,” said Narduzzi.  Quadree takes a kickoff back to start it off and you think you got momentum, but we couldn’t get it started. They made plays and we didn’t. There were times where we needed to convert and we didn’t.

“They did a heck of a job coaching, and they threw a lot of different stuff at us. You can’t prepare for stuff you don’t know is coming.”

Using an empty formation at times, going to shotgun, and sticking to their basic triple option scheme, Navy put together a game plan that had the Panthers’ defense on its heels for much of the game, which led to 12 of 17 third down conversions and a dominant 42:05 time of possession.

The Midshipmen punted just once in the game, scoring on all six red zone chances.

Pitt had several opportunities to get back into the game, but squandered many of them, including what seemed to be a promising first half-closing drive, until with just 36 seconds left Peterman was picked off in the end zone by Brendon Clements on a pass intended to Tyler Boyd, who tripped in the middle of running the route.

Boyd finished with one of his more underwhelming performances of the season, just 53 yards on six catches, while also rushing for 55 yards on Pitt Tyler Boyd5 rushes.

“That was a good football team, a great defense,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. “We had a lot of time to prepare, and we threw in some different things and found some holes in their defense. I’m just really proud of what the seniors and this team did today.”

The Panthers found a spark late in the 3rd quarter when just two plays after the Peterman to Ollison touchdown pass, Jordan Whitehead scooped up a Chris Swain fumble forced by Matt Galambos and returned it 22-yards for the touchdown, bringing Pitt to just a 10-point deficit.

Galambos finished with a career-high 19 tackles, marking the best total by a Pitt defender all season. 

Led by Reynolds and his game-best 144 yards rushing, Navy scored on both of their possessions in the 4th quarter following the Whitehead score to stall and ice what seemed like a promising Panthers comeback.

Swain, who committed the Midshipmen’s only turnover of the game, tallied up 114 yards on 27 carries, and joined Reynolds in the 1,000 yard rushing club, marking just the second time in Navy history that two rushers reached that plateau in the same season.

Reynolds also chipped in through the air, going 9 of 17 for 126 yards, while also catching one pass for 47 yards on a halfback option, in which the senior helped set up Navy’s first score of the 2nd half.

“I was just glad I caught it.  It kind of caught me off guard,” said a joking Reynolds after the game.  “We were a little upset we weren’t going to a New Year’s Six Bowl game; that was one of our goals.  But what a better way to end (my career) than to play at home and set the records for most wins in a season.”

One to Grow on
Narduzzi took a little solace from Monday’s loss, imploring that success will in fact take time with the Pitt program.

“We just have to keep getting one step closer.  We would like to go undefeated and go 13-0 but it is one step at a time.

“We did a lot of great things this year,” continued the coach. “Best conference record in school history, our road record best since 2008, and best overall record since 2009. You can’t have it all at once, but we’ll just continue to pound the rock and send these seniors off the right way. They’re never gone and always with us.”

Special Tribute to a Fighter
James Conner, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in December, and is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments, walked hand-in-hand in with teammates Monday as a captain. Conner also made an appearance with Maryland Governor and cancer survivor Larry Hogan, as the two addressed the crowd during a pause in action in the second half.

“Every week we have an honorary captain and James was our guy for this week,” said an emotional Narduzzi. “You know his battle isn’t over, it’s just begun. He’s got a lot of fighting left to go. He’s a strong, strong kid and to have him out there at the coin toss, I think that meant a lot to our guys. He’s with us all the time and we want him around as much as we can.”

Military Bowl Notes
The 36,352 people in attendance marked the second-largest Military Bowl crowd, and largest since the game moved to Annapolis. The Pitt contingent was loud and well represented for the game, making for a solid campus atmosphere.

Pitt is now 13-19 in bowl games, and has not won one since defeating Bowling Green in the 2013 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

Qadree Ollison’s 4-yard toPitt James Conneruchdown catch marked the freshman’s first career receiving touchdown. He captured his team-leading 11th rushing score on his 45-yard dash in the 4th quarter. 

After the Spread
According to Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas, Pitt closed as 3-point underdogs. The total, which was set at 52, went well over as both teams combined for 72 points. Pitt closes the season 6-7 after the spread.

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