PHILADELPHIA -- Navy senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds crowned a legendary career with a 21-17 victory over Army in a classic Army-Navy Game that extended Navy's unprecedented winning streak in the rivalry to 14.
Navy's run of dominance has been littered with blowouts, but this year the game was undecided until the Hail Mary thrown by Army senior tight end Kelvin White hit the turf in Army's end zone on the game's last play.
A sold out crowd that included Defense Secretary Ash Carter here at Lincoln Financial Field watched one of the best games in the rivalry's storied history that featured the traditional flyovers, march-on and parachute performances. The game's intensity left both coaches in tears walking off the field after the teams sung their alma maters with the Cadets and Midshipmen as an improved Army team couldn't topple a veteran laden Midshipmen squad to end the streak.
Reynolds, one of the greatest quarterbacks in Navy history, entered the game with the attention of a Heisman Trophy campaign and he met every expectation. He rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns. He displayed his arm strength in throwing for 113 yards and the winning touchdown in the second half.
Navy's senior quarterback was named the game's Most Valuable Player and finished his career 4-0 against Army, becoming the only quarterback in the rivalry's history to start and win all four games.
"I thought he was going to be a good player, but I had no clue he was going to be this good. He surpassed everybody's thoughts on how good he was," Niumatalolo said of Reynolds' career at Navy. "He's been a good football player on the field, but off the field he's been a great leader for the team."
While Reynolds had another exemplary performance, Army's freshman quarterback Chris Carter played well enough to give Army Cadets and alumni hope that he could end their losing streak to Navy during his career.
Carter led Army to an early lead that the Black Knights held to the end of the first half, 17-14. It was the first time Army led Navy at halftime since 2009.
The pressure of the game appeared to catch up to the plebe (the name given to freshmen at the Naval Academy and West Point) in the second half as Carter fumbled once and threw an interception allowing the Midshipmen to hold onto the victory.
Army had opportunities to take the lead in the fourth quarter. The Black Knights marched to the Navy 39 trailing by four with two minutes left to play. Carter connected with plebe tailback Tyler Campbell on a 35-yard pass followed by a six-yard run by plebe tailback Jordan Asberry.
The next play call will likely leave Army Cadets and alumni wondering, "What if?" until next year's match up. Army called a trick play with senior wide receiver DeAndre Bell receiving a pass behind the line of scrimmage and then throwing the ball downfield to Campbell. Navy junior defensive back Daiquan Thomasson intercepted the pass at the 2-yard line, ending Army's best chance to take the lead.
Navy's defense stepped up in the second half, causing three turnovers and shutting out a Black Knight offense that took the lead on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Carter to junior Edgar Poe toward the end of the half.
Navy sacked Carter three times and in the second half appeared to rattle him. After the game, Carter said Army expected more blitzes from Navy.
"As an offense, we knew it was coming, we just needed to execute better," Carter said.
Many didn't expect such a tight game, especially after Reynolds sprinted to a 58-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter giving the Midshipmen a 7-3 lead. Army's defense stiffened, especially in the second half. Reynolds said after the game that Army's linebackers performed better than any other linebacking unit he had seen all season.
Army played multiple underclassmen and will enter next year with a more experienced team on offense and defense.
"We have young talent that is going into the offseason and won't be as young next year. I'm confident, we're going to work hard this offseason," said Army junior linebacker Jeremy Timpf. "We're going to drive these young guys and wer'e going to have some really talented sophomores and juniors."
Tomorrow is left for a young Army squad to wonder, but the day was again won by Navy.
Reynolds will end his career at the Military Bowl against Pittsburgh. He cemented his legacy here with his fourth win over Army.
After the game, longtime Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo addressed the possibility of leaving the Naval Academy for BYU's coaching vacancy. He said earlier in the week he would visit BYU on Monday. Niumatalolo explained why he announced his potential interest ahead of the Army-Navy Game.
"I didn't want to be one of those guys who says, 'Read my lips… I'm not going anywhere,' and then next thing you see is him on a plane flying somewhere. I've known coaches who have taken another job and never tell the other coaches," Niumatalolo said. "How do you do that? I could not do that to these kids. I love these guys too much. We're a family, and you don't do that to family."
-- Michael Hoffman is a contributor to Military.com and a military analyst for Tandem NSI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.