Navy seals victory with late fourth down conversion

Chris Goff, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Ken Niumatalolo wanted to use a timeout to think over the most critical decision of the game for his Navy team.
He didn't have one. So, two days after the death of his mother, Niumatalolo went with his gut. With 2 1/2 minutes left and Navy clinging to a six-point lead against the charging Hoosiers, Niumatalolo left his offense on the field on fourth-and-1 from the Indiana 49.
Quarterback Keenan Reynolds, unstoppable all night, made one last play, converting the attempt to ice the game as the Midshipmen beat Indiana 41-35 on Saturday in a game packed with offense.
"I was questioning it the whole time," Niumatalolo said. "Sometimes in coaching we have all these computer analyses and percentages and stuff, but we (said) 'Let's finish the game.' If we find a way to get a first down, the game's going to be over. I didn't want to give them the ball back."
Reynolds ran for three touchdowns and Navy (1-0) had 444 yards rushing. The victory was Navy's 20th over a BCS opponent since 2003, most in the country by a non-BCS school. It was also Navy's first road win against a Big Ten team since Sept. 29, 1979 against Illinois.
Indiana (1-1) fell victim to an upset one week after scoring a Memorial Stadium-record 73 points against Indiana State. A defensive unraveling was the culprit, as the Hoosiers allowed seven scores in nine possessions. Navy missed a field goal late in the first half and also ran out the final 3:53 after recovering Indiana's onside kick. Otherwise, the Midshipmen dominated with their triple-option attack and beat the Hoosiers for a second consecutive season.
Reynolds had 32 carries for 127 yards and completed 2 of 4 passes for 71 yards. The sophomore punched in two scoring runs from 1 yard out and another from the 2. Reynolds also converted a fourth-and-short carry on a drive early in the third quarter. That series ended with a 33-yard field goal from Nick Sloan which pushed Navy's lead to 41-28.
"He's been really good," Niumatalolo said of Reynolds. "I've never seen anything like it. The kid's amazing."
Nate Sudfeld, who subbed in for Tre Roberson at quarterback after two series and played the rest of the way, kept the Hoosiers within striking distance. Sudfeld completed 31 of 42 throws for 363 yards and four touchdowns but never got the ball with a chance to take the lead. The teams combined for 996 yards of total offense.
With 3:53 remaining, Mitch Ewald executed a near-perfect onside kick that hopped high in the air and was nearly snagged by a leaping Ted Bolser. The ball bounced close to Nick Stoner, too, but the Hoosiers failed to snag it. The Midshipmen, who themselves struggled defensively, then drained the time and celebrated with fans in the south corner of Memorial Stadium.
Darius Staten carried nine times for 106 yards and Geoffrey Whiteside rushed nine times for 97 yards for Navy. The Midshipmen converted three times on fourth down, the last Reynolds' 2-yard dive on the final possession, and rushed 70 times in all. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson scheduled last week's game against Indiana State for a Thursday in order to have more time to prepare for Navy's unique offense. It didn't help.
"We didn't come out ready," Wilson said. "I've got to look at why. That's a tremendous, quality opponent."
Kofi Hughes caught six passes for 102 yards and a touchdown for the Hoosiers. Bolser added 56 yards and two scores on five receptions. But with Indiana trailing by two scores most of the time after falling behind 14-0, the home team became one-dimensional on offense, so much so that Sudfeld was the leading rusher with 35 yards.
"We've got to have more balance," Wilson said. "We've got to be a tougher team out of the gate."
The Midshipmen led 24-14 after a first half highlighted by their relentless rushing attack. Navy ran the ball 28 times before attempting its first pass, which went for 47 yards. Navy posted 326 yards of offense in the half, 255 on the ground, and threw three times compared to 35 runs. In last season's meeting with Indiana, won by the Midshipmen 31-30, they posted 353 yards of total offense for the game.
In a brilliant performance, Sudfeld tossed touchdown passes of 45 yards to Hughes, 6 and 15 yards to Bolser and 7 yards to Shane Wynn. But Wilson twice went for it on fourth down, with one gamble backfiring in a big way. The Hoosiers were stuffed on fourth-and-short from their own 34 early in the opening period. Navy turned the short field into a 3-yard scoring run by Chris Swain.
NOTES: A pregame ceremony attended by Secretary of the Navy Ray Maybus dedicated the prow of the USS Indiana, a World War II battleship. The prow, acquired by the school over the summer, sits at the west entrance of Memorial Stadium. The ship earned nine battle stars for its service in the Pacific. ... Navy players wore a heart-shaped sticker on their shoulder pads to recognize Niumatalolo's mother, who died Thursday in Hawaii. ... The game was Navy's first in Bloomington since 1986. The Midshipmen tied the all-time series 2-2.

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