Keenan Reynolds is Navy's best offensive option as well as the Midshipmen's starting quarterback. Losing the dual-threat sophomore to a head injury in the first half proved just too much to overcome.
Navy managed only 65 yards total offense in the second half with Reynolds on the sideline wearing a ball cap, and Western Kentucky beat the Midshipmen for the first time in three tries 19-7 on Saturday.
Reynolds' last carry was a 2-yard run with just over 3 minutes left in the first half after Parrish Gaines intercepted a pass for Navy. Coach Ken Niumatalolo turned to junior John Hendrick, who was stopped a couple inches short on fourth-and-1. That was the last time the Midshipmen threatened to score.
"John hasn't been practicing very much, so Keenan has been getting most of the reps, so it took away a lot of our continuity," Niumatalolo said. "We had a lot of opportunities in the first half that we let go. Western had a good plan, and we couldn't do anything."
Western Kentucky (3-2) shut down the nation's best rushing offense, and Hilltoppers senior Antonio Andrews outgained Navy all by himself with 182 yards rushing compared to 107 for Navy — well below the 398 yards the Midshipmen averaged through the first two games. The Hilltoppers outgained Navy 417-183 in total offense and held the ball 37 minutes.
Navy was struggling to move the ball even before Reynolds was hurt with the Hilltoppers trying to tackle him whenever the quarterback had the ball.
"He's really a great player," WKU coach Bobby Petrino said of Reynolds. "I hope he's going to be OK because he's really a special football player."
Navy (2-1) was trying to start 3-0 for the first time since 2006. The Midshipmen averaged 552 yards offense through two games but just couldn't keep the chains moving against the Hilltoppers.
"They out-coached us and out-played us, and you have to give those guys credit," Niumatalolo said. "Coach Petrino and his staff, they beat us, they played better than us and coached better than us. Coach Petrino did a better job of getting his team ready. We lost, and I am not going to make excuses."
The Hilltoppers gave up 410 yards rushing in losing to Navy in 2011. This time, they were ready for the triple option and got their first win over Navy in their third try. Western Kentucky coaches spent time last winter putting together a defensive plan for Navy and practiced it during the spring and some in August.
Navy led 7-3 at halftime with the Hilltoppers adjusting quickly to the triple option after Navy went 67 yards on its opening possession with six different Midshipmen getting at least one carry. Reynolds capped the 67-yard drive with his fourth carry, a 1-yard keeper, for a 7-0 lead.
This was a nearly a home game for Reynolds, who went to high school in Tennessee just over an hour from Bowling Green. He ran only six times for 23 yards and a TD and was just 2 of 4 for 20 yards passing.
Hendrick didn't do much better. Jonathan Dowling intercepted one of his passes in the third quarter, and Western Kentucky started penetrating so much even handoffs became a challenge. Then Hilltoppers linebacker Xavius Boyd sacked Hendrick in the end zone for a safety with 5:46 left.
Navy led 7-3 when the Hilltoppers put together their best drive of the day, going 88 yards and chewing up more than 6 minutes off the clock. Andrews, the senior who set a school record rushing for five TDs last week, kept the drive alive converting a fourth-and-1. He then capped the drive with his 2-yard run with 5:41, giving the Hilltoppers their first lead of the day at 10-7.
Andrews added an 11-yard TD early in the fourth quarter.