With a chance to clinch the AAC West Divison and home-field advantage in the conference championship game, Houston (11-1, 7-1 AAC) was led by quarterback Greg Ward Jr. throwing and running the football to take down No. 15 Navy (9-2, 7-1 AAC), 51-31. Houston will wait to see if it will host Temple or South Florida next week in the conference championship game.
Houston’s gameplan against Navy was simple in philosophy and strategy but masterful in execution. Big plays and well-designed ball-control was the key to the game for Houston. The Cougars rolled up over 500 yards of offense and kept the Navy defense on the field for a majority of the game. That led to some big play opportunities for Houston, and with players with the skill and talent of Ward Jr., Brandon Wilson and Demarcus Ayers, it proved to be too much for Navy to handle for 60 minutes. Wilson rushed for over 100 yards and a touchdown and Ayers hauled in 161 yards and a score and even got involved with a passing touchdown in the first half, a 29-yard strike to Steven Dunbar. Considering how much Ward Jr. was forced to play through injury, it was a remarkable effort by Houston against a Navy team that has shown some good defense this season. It just was not there today against the AAC’s most talented offensive team.
Houston converted 15 of 18 third-down attempts, and went two-for-two when they chose to go for it on fourth down. Houston was without a turnover and committed just three penalties.
Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds may have seen his late Heisman Trophy campaign take a dent with the loss, but he may still prove worthy of an invite to New York City for the presentation of the award. Reynolds tied the FBS all-time career touchdown record previously set by Wisconsin’s Montee Ball with his fourth quarter touchdown run. Whether he receives an invite to New York or not, there is no question he is among the classiest of college football players and it was clear he never allowed the Midshipmen to pack it in when Houston started to separate itself from Navy.
Houston will host either Temple or South Florida in the first American Athletic Conference championship game next Saturday, December 5. The game, scheduled to kick off at noon, will see its AAC East representative determined tomorrow when Temple plays Connecticut. If Temple defeats the Huskies in Philadelphia, the Owls will make the trip to Houston for the conference championship game. A loss by Temple and it will be South Florida representing the East thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker over Temple. USF won Thursday night to force Temple to win against UConn to win the division. Houston has not played either AAC East Division contender this season.
Navy is not done this regular season, of course. The Midshipmen will make the trip to Philadelphia for the traditional Army-Navy Game in two weeks. Navy has beaten their rivals from West Point 13 straight times for the longest winning streak in the series.