Another solid performance by Connecticut quarterback Bryant Shirreffs (19-for-32, 219 yards, 2 touchdowns) went for naught as his counterpart, Navy QB Keenan Reynolds, was a veritable offensive machine. The 5-11, 205-lb. senior from Anticoch, Tenn., carried the ball 28 times for 142 yards and three touchdowns, and added a touchdown pass for good measure, to lead the Midshipmen to a 28-18 victory before 33,204 fans at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., on Saturday afternoon.
The Midshipmen were the first FBS team on the Huskies’ schedule, and easily the best team Connecticut has faced thus far. Entering the game, Navy had the top ground game in FBS (that is, Division I), while Connecticut came in with the nation’s No. 5 defense, allowing just 126.3 rushing yards per contest. As a rule, defense normally trumps offense—but such was not the case on Saturday. In fact, on the stat sheet, the two teams seemed almost even. The Midshipmen ended up with 343 offensive yards—303 on the ground. The Huskies, meanwhile, easily won the passing game. Connecticut had 325 offensive yards, 219 in the air. But it was what Navy—and Reynolds in particular—did in the red zone that separated these two teams. Reynolds, with two scoring runs of 10 yards and another from four yards out now has 73 career TD rushes.
As expected, Navy’s passing game was a non-issue. Reynolds threw the ball just four times. But he completed three, including a 29-yard, second-quarter scoring pass to Jamir Tillman. Indeed, Navy reached paydirt four times in its first five possessions accounting for 28 points—all the Midshipmen would need on this gorgeous early fall afternoon.
The Huskies actually scored first when redshirt junior Bobby Puyol booted a 38-yard field goal after a seven-play, 45-yard opening drive by the Huskies stalled on the Navy 21. It would turn out to be UConn’s only lead.
The Midshipmen countered with two TDs—a 10-yard rush by Reynolds and a 19-yard pass from Reynolds to Jamir Tillman—that gave Navy a 14-3 advantage with 7:02 to remaining until halftime. Connecticut cut the margin to three points after a 39-yard touchdown pass from Shirreffs to freshman wideout Tyraig Beals with 3:29 remaining in the half, but Navy delivered what would ultimately prove to be the dagger—a four-yard touchdown run by Reynolds with just four ticks left in the second period—sending the Midshipmen into the locker room with a 21-10 halftime lead.
“Huge,” said an elated Navy head coach Ken Niumatolo on that final play of the first half. “We knew we were getting the ball to start the second half, so we wanted to get some points out of it. That is the fruit of having a senior quarterback and skill guys who have been there. [They] know when to get out of bounds [and] pick up first downs. It was a close game, and that definitely helped us going into the half.”
After a scoreless third period that ended with Navy breathing down the Huskies’ necks on the Connecticut 10, the Midshipmen upped the lead to 28-10 when Reynolds capped a 10-play, 69-yard scoring drive with a 10-yard run by Reynolds on the first play of the fourth period. The teams then swapped three-and-outs before the Huskies finished the days’ scoring with a 12-play, 68-yard touchdown drive capped by a six-yard pass from Shirreffs to tight end Tommy Meyers, a redshirt sophomore from Coventry, Conn. The Huskies then completed a successful two-point conversion on a pass from Shirreffs to Norwalk, Conn., native Noel Thomas, but it proved to be too little, too late as the Midshipmen came away with a 28-18 victory.
“The players are resolved to turning this thing into a winner,” said Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco in the postgame interview room. “I know that’s tough to hear after a loss, but it’s true. I believe you guys are seeing the DNA and the culture of our team. You are seeing tough gentlemen and classy character. You are seeing great effort. The guys stick to it in the face of adversity.”
With the win, Navy improves to 3-0, 2-0 in the American Athletic Conference. UConn falls to 2-2, 0-1 in conference play. The Huskies now prepare to face 2-2 BYU Friday night in Provo, Utah. Kickoff is at 10:15 p.m., ET, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.