BALTIMORE — Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo broke down in tears when he met the media Saturday after an unexpectedly tough 17-10 victory over Army.
It wasn't because Navy had beaten Army for a 13th year in a row. It wasn't because Niumatalolo had become the all-time winningest coach at Navy in his seventh season.
Niumatalolo is an emotional coach. Every Army-Navy game is packed with emotion. It just all came out as Niumatalolo sat at a table behind a microphone.
"All you guys that cover me know that I'm a cry baby. … I'm just blessed," said Niumatalolo, also the first coach on both side of the 115-year-old series to start off 7-0.
Bowl-bound Navy (7-5) is accustomed to romps over Army, which finished 4-8 under first-year coach Jeff Monken.
Saturday, Navy didn't get a first down in the first quarter. Navy's first series ended with a blocked punt that yielded an Army recovery for a touchdown. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was limited to one rushing touchdown, though he continued his march toward becoming the NCAA's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns.
Niumatalo saluted the effort by Army and Monken, a former Navy assistant. It took a Navy recovery on an onside kick try by Army to seal the win with under two minutes left.
"Our country is in great hands on both sides of the ball. They've got great kids at West Point. Two great institutions," said Niumatalolo, whose 56 career wins at Navy give him one more than George Welch, who coached the Midshipmen from 1973-1981.
"It's kind of cool when you got the final four (college football playoff), players trying to unioniz3, trying to get more pay. But here you've got two schools that just want to beat each other up and then shaking hands after the game. A year or so later, they will be serving together to protect our freedoms."
Reynolds, a junior and three-year starter, will lead Navy into the Dec. 23 Poinsettia Bowl against San Diego State in San Diego.
Reynolds' 1-yard sneak on a play that stood under review gave Navy a 10-point lead early in the final quarter. He now has 62 career rushing touchdowns, extending his record for a quarterback. The overall NCAA record for rushing touchdowns is 77 by running back Montee Ball of Wisconsin (2009-2012).
In going 3-0 as a starter against Army, Reynolds did not have a big day by his standards. He ran for 110 yards on 26 tough carries in Navy's triple option and completed 6-8 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown.
His passing was an edge on a day when Army didn't complete a pass until the final quarter and managed just 37 passing yards.
In contrast to his coach, Reynolds was all smiles.
"It's pretty sweet. It doesn't get much better," said Reynolds. "Two amazing things on one day: Continuing the streak and also giving him (Niumatalolo) the all-time winningest coach in navy history."
Does Reynolds think about the all-time record for rushing touchdowns?
"I'm aware of it, but it's strictly an off-the-field deal," said Reynolds.
"Off the field, I know what I need to get. But on the field, in practice … my main goal is just to execute because at the end of the day, if you execute … good things are going to happen. … Stats are for losers. I could rush for however many yards and six-seven touchdowns, but if we're not winning then it's pretty pointless.
"So I'll take a stat-less game with a victory (over) a stat-packed game without a victory any day."
There's pressure on Army to break the streak.
Senior fullback Larry Dixon, who led Army with 90 rushing yards, finished 0-4 in his career versus Navy. In 2012, a mishandled exchange between Dixon and quarterback Trent Steelman cost Army a chance to beat Navy in the final minutes.
"It's harder to say which ones are more difficult to take," said Dixon. "They're different kind of losses because they're different teams. Coming into this game, we understood that we could only control the 2014 Army football team. … But this one was hard. I feel like I let my whole team down, I let the players around me down, and so it's going to be hard to go through that and think about that."
There also is pressure on Navy to keep winning in the series.
Niumatalo was asked about that.
"In this profession, every game is pressure," said Niumatalolo.
"I've been trying to lose weight for the last 20 years and I'm still 260 pounds.. There's a lot of sleepless nights. I keep telling my wife, 'Why am I in this profession. I can just quit and retire, go back to Hawaii and get on the beach and just chill.'
"There's always pressure … whether you're playing Notre Dame, Ohio State, Western Kentucky, West point. This is a pressure-packed deal. They're all pressure packed."