PHILADELPHIA >> Walking off the muddy field after another disheartening loss to Navy, embattled Army coach Rich Ellerson probably wondered if he would get another chance to beat his school’s biggest rival.
The Black Knights offered little resistance Saturday in a 34-7 defeat, their 12th straight in a lopsided series that Army once dominated.
“I love that football team,” Ellerson, a former University of Hawaii player and coach, said about his squad. “I want desperately for them to have a better feeling today. That’s what is killing me.”
Army (3-9) fumbled five times and was intercepted once in its fifth straight defeat. Ellerson fell to 0-5 against the Midshipmen and 20-41 overall since taking the job in December 2008.
Whether he will be back in 2014 remains up in the air.
“That’s not my call,” he said. “Obviously, in the body of work, we’ve made some progress. But I wasn’t brought in to make progress. I was brought in to win some football games and beat Navy. I’ve lost to our rival five times.”
Asked if he’s gotten any indication about his future, Ellerson replied, “We haven’t had that conversation. I’m a football coach. It’s hard, but again, it’s not about me, it’s those guys. That’s who I’m sick for right now.”
Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds ran for 136 yards and three touchdowns, and Navy (8-4) took a 17-0 halftime lead before coasting to the finish.
“I thought we closed the gap the last two years, but that gap opened back up,” Ellerson said.
Reynolds scored on runs of 47 yards, 11 yards and 1 yard. The sophomore has 29 rushing touchdowns, breaking the single-season mark for a quarterback previously held by Ricky Dobbs (Navy, 2009) and Collin Klein (Kansas State, 2011), both of whom had 27.
His third score — with 46 seconds left in a lopsided game — gave him 176 points for the season, breaking the school record of 174 set by Bill Ingram in 1917.
“The thought did come across my mind to take a knee,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, who is also a former University of Hawaii coach, said. “But then my thoughts went to, I have a kid that has a chance to break a record that’s hard to come by.”
Navy’s effort to score in the final minute was taken in stride by the Black Knights.
“It’s like any rivalry. They were just playing football,” Army linebacker Jarrett Mackey said. “If they wanted to run the ball, it was up to us to stop them. It’s not on them, it’s on us.”
Navy (8-4) won the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy for the second consecutive season and ninth time in 11 years. The trophy is awarded to the service academy with the most victories in games between Navy, Army and Air Force.
The Midshipmen haven’t lost to Army since 2001 and lead the series 58-49-7. Navy’s 12-game run is the longest in the history of the rivalry that began in 1890.
“I’ve got a lot of good friends on that side,” Niumatalolo said. “They’ve got great kids over there. They go through what our kids go through. But ultimately, I’ve got to think about our team.”
Niumatalolo became the second coach in Navy history to start his coaching career 6-0 against Army, matching Paul Johnson (2002-07).
The Midshipmen will conclude their season in the Armed Forces Bowl against Middle Tennessee State on Dec. 30.
The snow that was forecast in the morning hours began during the pregame pageantry that makes this game a one-of-a-kind spectacle. The snow, along with the freezing temperatures, created an uncomfortable setting for those in the packed stadium.
Many of them left after the first half, which ended with Navy up 17-0.
Making his first college start, Army quarterback A.J. Schurr lost the handle on the wet football with his arm cocked to throw. Teammate Larry Dixon recovered, but the 20-yard loss doomed the Black Knights to end their first possession with a punt.
Schurr fumbled on the next drive, too, and this time Navy recovered at its own 38. That ended his day.
“If you’re struggling to hold onto the ball, that will get you out of there,” Ellerson said.
Following the turnover, Quinton Singleton burst through a hole in the middle and ran 58 yards to the Army 4, setting up a field goal for a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Angel Santiago came in at quarterback for the Black Knights at just about the same time the intensity of the snow increased. On fourth-and-3 at the Navy 33, Terry Baggett lost three yards.
Midway through the second period, Noah Copeland ran 39 yards for a touchdown to make it 10-0.
With 2:38 left in the half, Reynolds gingerly picked his way through the Army defense on his record-tying touchdown run.
In the third quarter, the snow turned to rain and Santiago did his best to make a game of it. After throwing a 29-yard pass to Xavier Moss, the junior quarterback scored on a 4-yard run to get the Black Knights to 17-7.
Reynolds answered with an 11-play drive that produced a field goal. Army then failed to convert a fourth-and-3 from its own 42, a futile gamble that all but assured the Black Knights another frustrating loss against their far more successful service academy rivals.