FORT WORTH, Texas — Middle Tennessee State quickly found out how difficult it would be trying to stop Navy’s triple-option offense.
The Midshipmen ran 10 consecutive times on the game’s opening drive, with quarterback Keenan Reynolds going 3 yards for the first of his two touchdowns to put them ahead to stay in a 24-6 victory Monday in the Armed Forces Bowl.
“It hurts to lose this game, but I was really proud of how we played out there,” Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said. “It’s hard to simulate on a scout team what Navy does.”
Especially Reynolds, who increased his NCAA record for touchdowns rushing by a quarterback to 31 while matching Colorado State running back Kapri Bibbs, another sophomore, for the national lead this season.
Even though Reynolds lost two fumbles, matching his total during the regular season, the Blue Raiders (8-5) failed to convert into points either of the miscues. Both fumbles were recovered by linebacker T.T. Barber, the game’s defensive MVP after Navy had driving inside the 20.
“After the first couple drives there we kind of settled in. We got acclimated to the speed of the game,” Stockstill said. “After that, I thought the defense played fast, they played physical.”
Navy (9-4), which won for only the second time in its last seven bowl games, still piled up 366 yards rushing.
The Blue Raiders were held to a season low in points. They had finished the regular season with a five-game winning streak, averaging nearly 43 points a game in that stretch — since a 34-7 loss on Oct. 12 at North Texas, about 40 miles away from the TCU campus where the bowl was played.
Logan Kilgore, the quarterback already with an MBA and a school-record 53 TD passes, was 19-for-33 passing for 218 yards with two interceptions in his final game for Middle Tennessee.
“I couldn’t be more proud to be the quarterback the past four years at this university. We’ve been through a lot,” Kilgore said. “The reason why I think this senior class is so special is because we came in, we were at the top going to the bowl games, we had a tough season and nobody pointed fingers. We’ve come back these last two seasons, back-to-back eight-win seasons, and I just think that we’re making this a habit.”
Cody Clark had field goals of 43 and 24 yards for Middle Tennessee. The longer kick came at the end of Middle Tennessee’s opening drive.
Down 10-6 at halftime, the Blue Raiders drove to the Navy 7 on the opening drive of the second half. They went for it on fourth down instead of trying a short field goal. But fullback Corey Carmichael managed only a yard before getting taken down by Travis Bridges and George Jamison, who also had an interception.
Middle Tennessee played in a bowl a year after getting snubbed with the same 8-4 record in the regular season. That was in the Sun Belt Conference before moving to Conference USA this season.
“Well, last season we didn’t get a bowl game. We had something to prove,” said Barber, a sophomore. “Having another eight-win season this year was a great accomplishment.”
Barber forced the first fumble late in the first half, jumping over the quarterback to pounce on the ball. The other came late in the third quarter when the Midshipmen drove from their own 6 to the MTSU 14 after stopping Middle Tennessee short on a fourth-and-2.
There was a scary moment in the final minute before halftime when Middle Tennessee receiver Marcus Henry and Navy cornerback Lonnie Richardson each crumpled after a hard tackle. Players from both teams quickly motioned to the sideline, and trainers sprinted to the players.
Henry and Richardson were side-by-side on the ground surrounded by their teammates and medical personnel. They eventually sat up, then got up and walked gingerly off the field with help.