Keenan Reynolds, Ken Niumatalolo lead Navy in Military Bowl
ANNAPOLIS, MD. — Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and quarterback Keenan Reynolds have accomplished so much together, it's only appropriate that their working relationship comes to an end in a stadium filled with their most avid fans.
Reynolds will close out his spectacular four-year career Monday by leading the Midshipmen (10-2) against Pittsburgh (8-4) in the Military Bowl. Though the venue is technically deemed a neutral site, a vast majority of the estimated 34,000 in attendance at Navy-Marine Corp Memorial Stadium are sure to be rooting for the guys who went 6-0 there this season.
It figures to be an emotional afternoon for Niumatalolo and Reynolds, whose partnership has produced 31 victories, four bowl bids and a 4-0 record against Army. There's still one more item of business to tend to before they head their separate ways: Beating Pittsburgh would provide Navy with its first 11-win season and an unprecedented third straight bowl victory.
"I think that would be an awesome way to go out," said Reynolds, whose 85 career rushing touchdowns are the most in Division I history.
After Navy's 21-17 victory over Army on Dec. 12, Niumatalolo interviewed for the coaching job at Brigham Young. He decided to stay at Navy, a decision that forged a collective sigh of relief from just about everyone associated with the program.
"I'm glad that's behind us," Niumatalolo said.
This will be the second time this season that the Panthers have faced the triple option. They beat Georgia Tech 31-28 in mid-October, but stopping Reynolds is far more challenging proposition.
"It's not a whole lot of fun," Pitt first-year coach Pat Narduzzi said. "He's a great football player,"
Some things to know about this Military Bowl matchup:
RUNNING WILD: Navy won't be the only team on the field with a potent running game. Pitt freshman Qadree Ollison, the Atlantic Coast Conference Offensive Rookie of the Year, amassed 1,048 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns despite starting the season as No. 3 on the depth chart. He moved into the starting role following season-ending injuries to James Conner and Rachid Ibrahim.
"The key to this one is stopping the run," Navy defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson said.
Conner tore the MCL in his right knee in September and is receiving treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma. But he is slated to be on the sideline Monday cheering for his teammates.
"It would be empty if you didn't have him here, that's for sure," Narduzzi said.
GOOD HANDS PEOPLE: Pitt junior Tyler Boyd had 85 catches for 1,261 yards this season to become the school career leader in both categories (248, 3,308).
If Boyd declares for the NFL draft this winter — a distinct possibility — this will be his final college game.
Though Navy prefers to run (the Midshipmen are 9-10 when Reynolds throws at least 11 times), junior wide receiver Jamir Tillman is the first player in school history to catch a touchdown pass in four straight games.
HOME RUN: Navy has won nine in a row on its own turf and is 33-9 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium under Niumatalolo.
Pittsburgh understands the situation, but the Panthers went 5-1 on the road this season, their best mark since 2008. The lone defeat came against Iowa on the final play of the game.
SENIOR CLASS: Navy's 32 seniors will be seeking their 36th victory before pursuing their service assignments within the military.
The most collective wins by a senior class at Navy is 36, set in 1909.
Pittsburgh has only 15 seniors — sixth-fewest among FBS schools.
FAMILIAR FOES: This will be the 40th meeting between the teams in a series that dates back to 1912.
Pitt leads 22-14-3. The teams split the past four meetings, the last coming in 2013 when Navy kicked a field goal as time expired for a 24-21 victory.
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