HOUSTON -- Greg Ward, Jr. threw for 308 yards and three touchdowns to lead No. 21 Houston to a 52-31 win over No. 16 Navy on Friday, sending the Cougars to the first American Athletic Conference championship game.
Houston (11-1, 7-1 American) clinched the West Division title and will host either Temple or South Florida in the championship game Dec. 5. The Cougars are also well positioned to earn a bid to a New Year's Six bowl game, likely the Fiesta Bowl, if they win the league championship.
Ward was 26-of-35 passing and ran for 83 yards and another score as Houston opened up a 38-17 lead by the end of the third quarter.
Keenan Reynolds rushed for 84 yards on 19 carries and a fourth quarter touchdown and was 14 of 17 for 312 yards passing and a touchdown for Navy (9-2, 7-1). The Heisman Trophy contender scored his 83rd career touchdown to match the FBS record set by Wisconsin's Montee Ball. Reynolds also set a Navy record with his 29th career TD pass.
Navy had its five-game winning streak snapped.
Houston's Brandon Wilson, who was moved from cornerback to running back this week because of injuries, ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Demarcus Ayers had eight catches for 161 yards and a touchdown and threw a 29-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter for Houston, which compiled 555 yards of offense and went 16 of 19 on third downs
Navy's Jamir Tillman caught five passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. Chris Swain ran for two touchdowns for Navy.
Navy had rushed for 400 yards in back-to-back contests, but its triple-option offense was limited to 147 yards by Houston's defense. The Midshipmen tried to make up for the lack of ground production through the air.
After Reynolds was intercepted on the second play of the second half, Ward threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Linell Bonner to increase Houston's lead to 17 with 11 1-2 minutes left in the third quarter.
Following Austin Grebe's 39-yard field goal for Navy, Ayers extended Houston's lead to 38-17 with a one-handed catch and run for a 62-yard touchdown reception from Ward with 2:26 left in the third.
Ward put Houston ahead for good, spinning away from four Navy defenders and scampering for a 5-yard touchdown with five minutes left in the first half. Ty Cummings hit a 45-yard field goal to end the half to give the Cougars a 24-14 lead.
UH tops Navy, 52-31, for spot in AAC title game
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AP Photo/ Juan DeLeon
Houston's Nick Thurman (91) and Elandon Roberts (44) celebrate on the field