December 22, 2015

Keenan Reynolds will play one final home game to close his storied Navy career Monday.

It won't be the last time that Ken Niumatalolo will call Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium his home.

The Midshipmen coach has decided to stay at the academy and will try to guide the program to a record 11th victory in the Military Bowl against Pittsburgh.

Reynolds, who finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting, will cap a stellar career in which he set a Division I record for rushing touchdowns with 85 and posted the most passing touchdowns in school history with 30. He needs 81 yards on the ground for 4,496 to pass Michigan's Denard Robinson for the most all-time among quarterbacks.

He became the first starting quarterback in the history of the Army-Navy game to go 4-0 after a 21-17 win Dec. 12 in Philadelphia. Reynolds ran 21 times for 136 yards with a 58-yard score and threw a go-ahead, 50-yard TD pass to Jamir Tillman in the third quarter.

"At the end of the day, it's all about wins and losses," Reynolds said. "To be able to come through here and never lost to Army, that's huge."

Niumatalolo improved to 8-0 against the Black Knights and will get a chance to make it nine straight after deciding to return.

The coach is a devout Mormon who visited BYU on Dec. 14 due to the vacancy left when Bronco Mendenhall departed for Virginia. Niumatalolo's sons also play for the Cougars, though he opted to stay in Annapolis.

''It was a long and agonizing two days, probably the hardest two days of my life, but the Naval Academy has been my life for the last 18 years and I love it here,'' Niumatalolo said. ''I love the kids that go to school here and the people I work with.

"BYU was something I need to look into because of my faith and the opportunity to coach my two sons, but ultimately I decided to stay at the Naval Academy because this is the best place for me and my family. We are at peace with the decision.''

Reynolds needs two TDs for 87 to become the all-time leader in the FBS. He will take part in the East-West Shrine Game as a running back, so this will be his last game at quarterback as he tries to help Navy (10-2) reach 11 wins for the first time and post a 10th straight home win.

Pittsburgh (8-4) will make its eighth consecutive bowl appearance in a season that got off on the wrong foot when star running back James Conner was lost to a torn knee ligament in the opener. Earlier this month, it was announced that Conner is dealing with Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma.

The Panthers began 6-1 before losing three of five, capped by a 29-24 defeat to Miami on Nov. 27. Still, they are excited about this bowl game.

"The Military Bowl is a tremendous opportunity for our team to end the season against a nationally ranked opponent," said coach Pat Narduzzi, who recently received a contract extension. "Navy is a Top 25 team with a Heisman-caliber quarterback in Keenan Reynolds. They will present us with a formidable challenge."

Qadree Ollison helped pick up the slack from the loss of Conner with 1,048 rushing yards to rank fourth in the ACC. Tyler Boyd had a conference-best 85 catches for 873 yards with six TDs, accounting for nearly one-third of Tennessee transfer Nate Peterman's 19 touchdown passes.

Navy finished the regular season third in the nation with 319.2 rushing yards per game. Pitt allowed an average of 126.1 to rank 21st.

Pitt has seen Reynolds at his best the last time these teams met in Navy's 24-21 home win Oct. 26, 2013. Reynolds guided the Midshipmen to 10 points in the final 3:52, including the winning field goal as time expired.

The Panthers have no reservations about returning to Annapolis, believing they will also have a solid amount of fans.

"Given our close proximity to Annapolis, we are looking for a great contingent of Pitt fans to make the short trek and see us play one more time this year," Narduzzi said.

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