Navy running back Darius Staten (20) is contacted by Indiana defensive end Nick Mangieri (56) as he rushes the ball upfield on Sept. 7 in Bloomington, Ind. Navy defeated IU 41-35. (Doug McSchooler / AP)
BLOOMINGTON, IND. — Navy used every option at its disposal Saturday night.
The biggest of all might have been the motivation to honor their coach’s mother.
Two nights after coach Ken Niumatalolo’s mother died in Hawaii, the Midshipmen put a heart-shaped decal on their shoulder pads and played like a wrecking crew. Keenan Reynolds rushed for 127 yards and three touchdowns, Darius Staten added another 106 yards on the ground and the Midshipmen ground out a 41-35 victory at Indiana in their season opener — their first road win over a Big Ten foe since 1979 at Illinois.
“It was hard, but I felt at peace,” Niumatalolo said. “I could feel my mother’s presence here, just during the whole week, I wasn’t super emotional out there. I just tried to stay glued into the game and tried to find a way to win this one for my mom.”
The greatest tribute might have been the way Navy responded Saturday.
On a night the Midshipmen (1-0) held an almost two-to-one advantage in possession time and rushed for 444 yards, they committed only five penalties, had no turnovers and wound up with only three negative rushing plays — one of those coming on a kneel-down on the game’s final play.
They methodically used the clock against Indiana, even forcing the Hoosiers to waste a precious timeout late in the game as they attempted to milk the clock.
Navy won for the first time in three tries in Bloomington and beat a BCS foe for the 20th time since 2003 — the most of any non-BCS school in the nation over the last decade. And the Midshipmen who did make the long bus trip from campus and the family members who got an undisclosed financial assist from Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay to also make the trip, responded by repeatedly singing “Anchors Aweigh.”
Reynolds kept the ball on Navy’s throwback triple option 32 times. Geoffrey Whiteside ran nine times for 97 yards, and DeBrandon Sanders carried five times for 68 yards. In all, the Midshipmen ran 70 times, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, and never even bobbled the ball on a pitch. Navy threw just five passes with Reynolds completing two for 71 yards.
But afterward, it was all about their heartfelt emotions.
“My mom’s here, so I can’t wait to see her,” Reynolds said. “It just makes you realize how precious life is and that life is more than just a game on Saturdays.”
The Hoosiers wanted to avenge last year’s late debacle at Navy, a game in which the Midshipmen rallied for a 31-30 victory by scoring 10 points in the final 5½ minutes.
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld did what he could, going 31 of 42 with 363 yards and three TDs.
The difference was defense.
Hoosiers fans thought their revamped defense was vastly improved after a 73-35 rout of Indiana State. Instead, they were no match against Navy, which jumped to a 17-0 lead and never gave Indiana a chance to tie the score or take the lead in a game that Navy never punted.
“We had a couple close plays, just couldn’t make the play we needed to,” coach Kevin Wilson said. “Had a chance to get a stop a couple of times and didn’t. Offensively, we had only one punt but we had one turnover.”
Navy made it look easy, too.
The Midshipmen opened the game with 29 consecutive runs, churning out 212 yards in roughly 1 ½ quarters and finished the first half with 255 yards rushing — just two fewer yards than it had in last year’s game against the Hoosiers.
They finished with 18 carries of at least 10 yards, and it started quickly as Whiteside ran for 31 yards on Navy’s first offensive play and went for 18 two plays later. Eventually, Reynolds scored on at 1-yard TD run to make it 7-0.
Then, after stopping Indiana on a fourth-down try at the Hoosiers’ 34-yard line, Chris Swain scored on a 3-yard run to make it 14-0. Navy settled for a 23-yard field goal on its next possession and, after Sudfeld threw a perfect 45-yard TD pass to Kofi Hughes, answered with another long scoring drive that Noah Copeland capped with a 3-yard TD run to make it 24-7.
That was all the Midshipmen needed.
“We knew how they were going to line up and just decided we had to outexecute them. We knew they were pretty much going to keep doing the same thing as last year,” Reynolds said.
Things didn’t change over the final 30 minutes.
Reynolds opened the scoring with a 2-yard TD run to start the third quarter and his third scoring run of the night made it 38-21.
Indiana could have had a chance to tie the score if it recovered a late onside kick, but the Hoosiers recovered out of bounds and Reynolds ran out the clock.
“I coach great kids,” Niumatalolo said. “They presented me with the heart, that was all their idea. I’m the luckiest coach in the world.”