BALTIMORE — The game was over, and it was time for Navy to celebrate its 13th straight victory over Army.
After the Midshipmen stood respectfully for Army’s alma mater, defensive ends Paul Quessenberry and Will Anthony hoisted Ken Niumatalolo on their shoulders to give the winningest football coach in Navy history a free ride in the wake of a 17-10 triumph Saturday.
Niumatalolo (56-35) broke a tie with George Welsh for most wins at Navy. He also became the first to win his first seven games against Army (4-8).
Asked about his awkward jaunt aboard the two players, Niumatalolo said, “I tried to get down. I have so much respect for Army, I didn’t want to upstage anyone.”
The streak remained intact because of Navy’s unrelenting defense and quarterback Keenan Reynolds’ versatility.
After Army turned a blocked punt into a touchdown in the first quarter, the Midshipmen used the passing of Reynolds to pull even at halftime. Navy (7-5) then took a 10-7 lead before Reynolds scored from the 1 with 12:07 left to put the Mids in control.
Reynolds ran 26 times for 100 yards and completed six of eight passes for 77 yards and a touchdown.
As the clock ticked down the final seconds, the thousands of Midshipmen in attendance jumped, yelled and cheered from their perch in the end zone. And soon after that, Niumatalolo went airborne.
“It was awesome,” Quessenberry said. “If you watch to the end, I ran into the Secretary of the Navy.”
The 13-game run by Navy is the longest in the history of a series that began in 1890. Before the Midshipmen went on their unprecedented streak, neither team in this storied rivalry had won more than five in a row.
“It’s not as if you carry points over from one year to the next,” Niumatalolo said. “It is a heck of a run, and you have to give credit to a lot of players and coaches.”
Navy leads the series 59-49-7. In the previous 12 games, the Midshipmen outscored Army 400-132 — including 34-7 last year. Although the score in this one was closer, the result was the same.
The Cadets haven’t defeated the Midshipmen since 2001. First-year coach Jeff Monken became the sixth coach to lose to Navy over that span.
“I’m certainly disappointed to play as hard as we did and not see our players win, especially the seniors,” Monken said.
After scoring a touchdown late in the first half to draw even at 7, Navy opened the third quarter with a 41-yard kickoff return by Ryan Williams-Jenkins. That led to a 45-yard field goal by Austin Grebe for a 10-7 lead.
Army then wasted a 50-yard drive, moving to the Navy 30 before Daniel Grochowski hooked a field goal try to the left.
Reynolds subsequently directed a 12-play march that lasted nearly eight minutes and ended with the 5-foot-11 junior bulling over the goal line for a 10-point cushion.
Naturally, the Cadets didn’t quit. But a possession that moved to the Navy 38 ended with a fumble by quarterback A.J. Schurr. A 52-yard field goal by Grochowski made it 17-10 with 1:51 left, but Navy recovered the ensuing onside kick.
That pretty much left Army with the prospect of lamenting yet another loss to their rivals for the next 365 days. For the Army seniors, there will be no second chance.
“Of course it will be our one huge regret from our time here, not beating our archrivals,” defensive end Joe Drummond said. “But when it comes to this program moving forward, we know it’s in very capable hands.”
Early on, it appeared as if this game might be different from the 12 that preceded it.
The Cadets went up 7-0 in stunning fashion, holding Navy to four yards on its first series before Josh Jenkins blocked a punt and Xavier Moss scooped up the ball and sprinted seven yards into the end zone.
Navy senior Pablo Beltran never had a punt blocked before that play — it was his 151st kick — and it marked the first time since 2009 that Army scored first against the Midshipmen.
It was a horrid first quarter for Navy, which gained 15 yards on three straight three-and-outs.
Army maintained the upper hand in the second quarter, but the momentum turned when Cadets quarterback Angel Santiago was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 from the Navy 30 with just over two minutes left.
The Midshipmen then turned to a seldom-used weapon — the forward pass — to pull into a tie at the break.
Reynolds completed a 39-yard pass to Jamir Tillman to the Army 31 and connected with Ryan Williams-Jenkins for 12 yards before throwing a 9-yard TD pass to Tillman with 18 seconds to go before halftime.