ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Tulane coach Curtis Johnson didn’t take much solace from shutting down Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and the rest of the Midshipmen’s high-powered running attack.
Instead, he know the Green Wave need to focus on the plays they didn’t make.
Reynolds ran for a pair of touchdowns and the Midshipmen forced three straight turnovers in the second half for a 31-14 victory over the Green Wave on Saturday. Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee, who missed the previous game against Houston with a concussion, was 22 of 31 for 205 yards with his first career interception.
“You can tell these guys play together and play hard,” Johnson said about Navy. “Their defense kept us out of the end zone. I thought this was the best (offensive) game plan we had all year. We had our quarterback back. They played great.”
Navy (5-1, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) entered the game ranked third nationally with 335.4 yards rushing per game but was held to just 133 as Tulane stacked nine players in the box. Reynolds had just 38 yards on 23 carries.
“We knew they were going to be tough interior-wise defensively,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “They had a really good plan. They’re athletic and we knew it was going to be tough sledding. I’m proud the way we played and how our defense did some good things.”
The Midshipmen stopped the Green Wave on a fourth-and-1 midway through the third quarter and took over at their own 34-yard line. On the ensuing drive, Navy extended its lead to 17-7 on a 9-yard run by Quentin Ezell, who has five touchdowns on 46 carries this season.
Tulane (2-5, 1-3) got down to Navy’s 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter but a fumble by Lee was recovered by Navy’s Will Anthony. It was the 13th straight game the Midshipmen forced a turnover.
Lorentez Barbour had another big defensive play for Navy, intercepting Lee at the Tulane 36. That later set up a 1-yard run by Reynolds.
Reynolds is now just two shy of the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns set by former Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball (77) from 2009-2012.
On the ensuing possession, the Mids got their third straight turnover on another fumble by Lee that was recovered by D.J. Palmore on the Tulane 23. Navy backup quarterback Tago Smith threw a 24-yard pass to Calvin Cass Jr, for the 31-7 lead.
That ended Lee’s day as back-up Jordy Joseph hit Charles Jones for a 13-yard touchdown that cut into the final margin.
On a fourth-and-goal from the Tulane 8-yard line, Reynolds ran four yards and scored two plays later on Navy’s opening drive. That was his first rushing touchdown after being held scoreless the past two games.
The Green Wave tied the game at 7 on a 19-yard run by sophomore tailback Dontrell Hilliard with 10:43 left in the half, capping a 7-play, 60-yard drive.
Reynolds, who was sacked three times in the first half, converted another fourth-and-2 from midfield and threw a 41-yard pass to Jamir Tillman on the next play. However, the Mids had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Austin Grebe.
“We played well today,” Tulane linebacker Eric Thomas said. “We played hard. Navy is a very disciplined team and they make big plays off your mistakes.”
Tulane’s Trevor Simms missed a 49-yard field goal attempt as time expired and Navy led 10-7 at the half. The Midshipmen were held to 44 yards rushing in the opening two quarters — their lowest output since 2013 against Western Kentucky.
“We found a way to get it done,” Reynolds said. “I think we just kind of came out flat. We met some adversity. The good thing is we didn’t turn the football over. We just kept playing. That’s what you got to do in these types of games.”