NORFOLK, VA. (OLD DOMINION ATHLETICS)– Old Dominion’s football team has won and lost a lot of close games this season, a symptom of playing in the Sun Belt Conference, one of the nation’s most balanced leagues.
But Saturday’s 28-24 defeat to Coastal Carolina came in particularly heartbreaking fashion.
Coastal scored the go-ahead touchdown with 23 seconds left, a 14-yard pass from Ethan Vasko to Sam Pinckney. It was the first lead for Coastal in a game that ODU once led by 15 points.
As it has all season, ODU played hard. After virtually shutting down Coastal in the first half, ODU’s defense surrendered 21 second-half points.
And ODU’s offense, which moved the ball fairly well for three quarters, managed just 57 yards in the fourth quarter. ODU was without starting center Xavier Black, who was injured, and gave up four sacks.
The Monarchs (4-5 overall, 3-3 Sun Belt) must win two of their last three games to become bowl eligible.
ODU next plays Saturday at unbeaten Liberty.
ODU head coach Ricky Rahne called it a “team loss,”
“We weren’t consistent enough on offense and gave up some big plays on defense,” he said. This is on me. When things started to go the wrong way, we did not respond the way we needed to.”
Asked if his team will bounce back from a difficult loss, he said: “We have no choice.
“It’s funny, everyone always says, ‘you know, this was a tough loss.’ I’ve never been part of an easy loss.
“One of our core values is compete and another is care. So, every game that you lose you should feel like you’ve been absolutely gutted.
“I mean, if you’re going to be successful, you should feel gutted.
“I know I do.”
The first half was a defensive struggle in which ODU held on to a 7-6 lead. But the Monarch offense got into gear in the third quarter, scoring on two of their first three possessions.
The Monarchs drove 67 yards in just seven plays for the first TD. Isiah Paige, the junior from Richmond, kept the drive alive by hauling in an overthrown pass for 26 yards that gave an ODU a first down at the 29. Two plays later, Wilson found Kelby Williams wide open in the back of the end zone for a 30-yard TD, and the Monarchs led 14-6 with 10:45 left in the third quarter.
The defense forced its second turnover of the game, and as with the first, a fumble recovery by LaMareon James, this led to a touchdown.
Markus Knight hauled in an interception in which Nolan Johnson knocked the ball out of the hands of Pinckney. Knight scooped it up just before it hit the ground at the 41.
Wide receiver Dominic Dutton, the former South Carolina track athlete, made a great catch to cap the drive with a 30-yard reception, reaching down low while on the run to scoop in an underthrown pass, to give ODU a 21-6 lead with 2:02 left in the third quarter.
The Monarchs held onto the 15-point lead for just three more plays.
Vasko, a redshirt freshman from Chesapeake, got things started with a 75-yard TD run with 20 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Chanticleers scored again on a 17-yard run by CJ Beasley to trim the lead to two, 21-19.
Coastal then went for a two-point conversion. Quarterback Jarrett Guest entered the game and handed the ball off to Vasko, who was hit at the one, but stretched the ball across the goal line with 8:11 left.
ODU then rallied, driving 38 yards in 2:51 to retake the lead on a 38-yard field goal from Ethan Sanchez.
Coastal then started its game-winning drive from the 22 with just 1:20 left. On second down and seven from the 25, the Monarchs committed a costly penalty, a pass interference that gave Coastal a first down at the 40.
Then, on third down, Vasko passed 32 yards to Kyre Duplessis that put the Chanticleers in field goal range. Vasko rushed twice and gave Coastal a first down at the 14. Then came the game-winning pass to Pinckney.
ODU committed seven penalties for 86 yards, including three for pass interference. Coastal had three for 35 yards.
There were few offensive fireworks in the first half.
After ODU went three and out on its first possession, Coastal Carolina coughed up the football on its second play from scrimmage. Defensive back Terry Jones forced the fumble which was picked up by James at the ODU 44.
The Monarchs then took four plays to score, with a 22-yard run by Keshawn Wicks the big play of the drive. Wilson then tossed six yards to Paige for the touchdown, the first of the season for Paige.
Sanchez’ conversion kick made it 7-0 with 11:30 to go in the first quarter.
The Monarchs did not get into the red zone the rest of the first half.
Coastal got into the red zone three times and managed just six points, field goals by Cade Hensley.
After playing an outstanding game last week in a 30-27 loss at nationally ranked James Madison, ODU quarterback Grant Wilson played well, completing 16 of 28 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns. But he acknowledged that he misfired on several throws.
“I wish we had some things back on offense,” Wilson said. “There were too many driver killers. Too many unforced errors on our part, especially on my part. I missed some throws there at the end that would have helped us.”
All-American linebacker Jason Henderson tied his school record with 22 tackles, including 1 ½ sacks and three tackles for a loss. With 407 career tackles, he became the third player in Sun Belt history to have more than 400.
But he said that records mean nothing to him after a loss.
“It’s tough to lose a close game like that,” he said. “But this team has no quit in it.
“We’re going to come back into the facility tomorrow and watch tape, get better and move on.”