Md. (AP) -- Despite his coach's claims that a narrow loss against a
tough road opponent constituted a step in the right direction, Florida
Atlantic quarterback Graham Wilbert took little consolation in a 24-17 loss to Navy on Saturday.
want to win every game," he said. "All our guys fought really hard
tonight. We really wanted this one. Felt good coming into the game and
we played them tough, for sure. You got to respect what these guys do,
and they made enough plays to win."
on, it looked like the Owls had figured out the counter to Navy's
effective running game: Focus on the fullback, pack the box with up to
nine defenders and limit the offensive maneuverability of the
worked to the tune of a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter, as
Navy's offense stalled. Before Navy began its first scoring drive
midway through the second quarter, the Midshipmen had run only 16 mostly
ineffective plays - none for longer than 10 yards - and recorded only
two first downs, one of those coming on a Florida Atlantic penalty.
Even when Navy got on the board on a 14-yard pass from Keenan Reynolds to Brandon Turner,
the Owls didn't flinch. But it wasn't hard for Wilbert to pinpoint
where the momentum shifted: a failed fourth-down pass at the Navy
15-yard line late in the first half.
responded by directing a 10-play drive capped by his 1-yard keeper, and
the Midshipmen had a 14-10 lead they never relinquished. By the end of
the third quarter, Navy had scored on four straight series and was up
didn't score just before halftime, and we could have potentially scored
a touchdown, and they took it down and scored," Wilbert said. "That was
a 14-point swing. That was a big one. ... There was a few plays like
that during the game that ended up costing us more than we'd like."
Still, the Owls made Navy work for its fifth straight win in the first meeting between the teams. Jonathan Wallace's second TD of the game, a 3-yard scamper with 9:07 remaining, got Florida Atlantic within 24-17.
finished with 111 yards on 28 carries, but the Owls are still searching
for their first consecutive victories under first-year coach Carl Pelini.
think if you had said coming into this season that we were going to
come to Navy and bring this game down to the wire, you would have told
me I was crazy," Pelini said. "But that's who this team is and they keep
getting better, they keep working. We've got three more weeks to
continue to get better."
finished with 159 rushing yards and a touchdown and threw two scoring
passes to Brandon Turner. Once Reynolds started calling his own number
in the huddle, the Midshipmen flourished, rolling up 393 offensive
yards, 246 of them on the ground.
had a great game plan coming in," Reynolds said of the Owls (2-7). "We
had to make some adjustments on the sideline. Once we got rolling, (we)
figured out what we can and can't run on that defense. ... Once we got
some momentum going, we were able to execute."
winning, the Midshipmen (6-3) earned a spot in the Dec. 29 Kraft Fight
Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, where they will face a Pac-12 opponent. It
will be the ninth bowl appearance in 10 years for Navy, which started
the season 1-3.
"It is special for our kids," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "But we are going to prepare as we always do. I am excited for our guys to go to a bowl game, especially our seniors."
completed 8 of 15 passes for 147 yards. Since taking over as Navy's
starting quarterback four games ago, Reynolds has passed for eight
touchdowns and run for five more.
He briefly left the game with about 12 minutes remaining with a left elbow injury, but later returned.
"I'm fine," Reynolds said when asked about the injury. "I really don't know what it is."
Wilbert completed 25 of 35 passes for 205 yards.
Navy's five-game winning streak is its first since 2009.
connected on nine of his first 10 passes, helping the Owls take a 7-0
lead on a methodical 15-play drive that featured only one play longer
than 9 yards and chewed nearly eight minutes off the clock. Wallace
scored on a right-side run from 1 yard out on the second play of the
sneaked a low, 53-yard kick over the crossbar for a 10-0 lead, tying
Mark Myers' record set in 2003 for the longest field goal in school
Wilbert said the game plan was to take what Navy gave the Owls, pecking away instead of going for the big gainer.
Early on, it worked to perfection.
definitely ran the ball consistently," Wilbert said. "It was four,
five, six consistent yards like that. When we're doing that, it makes
everything easier because they've got to respect the run more and put
more guys in the box to stop that, and that opens things up for us in
the passing game."
48-yard run finally breathed some life into the Navy offense by moving
the ball to Florida Atlantic's 33-yard line. Four plays later, Reynolds
found Turner cutting through the left side of the end zone for a 14-yard
the next possession, the Owls turned the ball over on downs at Navy's
15, and the Midshipmen needed only 2:03 to go ahead 14-10 on Reynolds'
keeper with 7 seconds left in the first half.
the opening drive of the second half, Navy marched 67 yards on nine
plays, capped by a 31-yard strike from Reynolds to Turner.
Navy's Kwazel Bertrand recovered a fumble by Damian Fortner at midfield on the ensuing drive, and the Midshipmen turned the turnover into a 20-yard field goal by Nick Sloan for a 24-10 lead with 2:08 remaining in the third quarter.
After Reynolds departed with the injury, fullback Prentice Christian fumbled on the next play, with the Owls' Trevon Coley recovering. It took Florida Atlantic seven plays to cut the lead to 24-17 on Wallace's 3-yard TD run.
returned for Navy's next series and drove the Midshipmen to the Owls'
34, where Sloan missed a 51-yard field goal try. Florida Atlantic then
got as far as the Navy 22, where Wilbert's fourth-down pass fell