ODU defeats FAU 30-16 for third-straight win in wild game

ODU Football

NORFOLK, Va. (ODU Sports) Old Dominion continued a dramatic turnaround in its football fortunes and won one of the most unusual games ever played, to extend its winning streak to three games.

ODU’s defense scored two safeties, the most in a Conference USA game since 1996, and the offense exploded in the second half as the Monarchs claimed a 30-16 victory over Florida Atlantic Saturday night at S.B. Ballard Stadium.

In all, ODU scored two points on four different plays, an achievement that has rarely occurred elsewhere. There were also five fumbles, including two lost by ODU in the game’s opening minutes.

“It’s the most unusual game I’ve ever been to,” ODU coach Ricky Rahne said.

“You try and try and try as a coach to put your kids in as many situations as possible to try to replicate game-like scenarios and under no circumstance would I be able to replicate what happened tonight.

“It was wild deal. But they kept responding every time and that shows a tough-minded, resilient football team.”

After losing five of its first six games, ODU (4-6, 3-3 Conference USA) has beaten Louisiana Tech, FIU and now FAU (5-5, 3-3) in its last three outings. Once last in the C-USA East Division, the Monarchs have pulled into a four-way tie for third place with FAU, Charlotte and Middle Tennessee, all at 3-3 in league games.

The Monarchs could go 6-6, and move as high as second in the standings, by winning at Middle Tennessee on Saturday and then at home against Charlotte on Nov. 27.

That would give ODU its first non-losing season since 2016 and also make the Monarchs bowl eligible for the first time since 2016.  

Rahne has stressed a “1-0 mentality,” in which the players focus on tasks each day and the game each week so that they won’t get distracted by looking ahead. When asked about a potential bowl bid, quarterback Hayden

Wolff said only that the Monarchs want to go 1-0.

Rahne said the joy the players feel in the locker room after winning a game is motivation enough for his Monarchs.

“It feels pretty awesome,” Wolff said. 

Added Rahne: “They’re learning that some of the stuff I say, while incredibly cliché, for them it’s what they really believe in. They believe in 1-0 and earning the right to win and believe that practice ultimately allows you to play better, and they believe that how you do anything affects everything.

“It’s kind of cool because now they repeat them back to me. That’s been a really awesome thing to witness, to watch the culture, that a lot of people, including the players, worked so hard to build, you see it start to show up and coalesce.”

Wolff completed 21-of-33 passes for 289 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. He threaded the needle on several long passes, including a 48-yard pass to Ali Jennings and a 46-yard pass to tight end Donta Anthony.  

Running back Blake Watson rushed 23 times for 163 yards and a touchdown as the Monarch offense rolled to 448 yards. It was Watson’s fifth game in a row with more than 100 rushing yards.

ODU’s defense held FAU to 308 yards, and that occurred in part because the offense was on the field much of the game. The offense had 75 plays to 55 for the D.

ODU scored two safeties in the first half, the first when Marcus Haynes tackled FAU quarterback N’Kosi Perry in the end zone that narrowed an Owls lead to 3-2 with 6:16 left in the first quarter.

The defense gave ODU a 4-3 lead with its second safety minutes later. With FAU facing a second down at its own 1, defensive tackle Sokoya McDuffie forced Perry to throw a hurried pass out of bounds. Perry was penalized for intentional grounding, and ODU was awarded a safety.

“When I looked up at the scoreboard and was the score was 4-3, I said, ‘are we playing a hockey game?'” Wolff said.

ODU scored twice more on two-pointers in the second half.

Freshman Jason Henderson blocked an extra point attempt, which was picked up by R’Tarriun Johnson and returned 80 yards for two points, and the Monarchs converted a two-point conversion on the final score. Wolff threw to Jennings at the four, and he tossed the ball to a streaking Blake Watson, who bulled his way into the end zone with 2:48 left to build the lead to 30-16.

ODU led at the half, 11-3, and drove deep into FAU territory on its first three drives of the second half and each time, settled for Nick Rice field goals of 30, 28 and 20 yards. Rice broke his own school record with his 18th field goal of the season.

FAU, meanwhile, got TDs from Brandon Robinson on a 59-yard pass reception and Johnny Ford on a 2-yard run.

Ford’s run narrowed the lead to 20-16.

But then ODU’s special teams came up big, as Henderson blocked the extra point which was returned by Johnson.

ODU then put it away on a drive keyed by Wolff’s 37-yard pass to freshman Jordan Bly. Two plays later, Wolff found Isiah Paige, the freshman from Richmond’s Varina High, with a 14-yard touchdown pass, the first TD of Paige’s career. 

As the team jogged into the locker room at game’s end, the remainder of a small but vocal crowd of 13,634 stood and cheered, and many players raised their helmets in return.

Linebacker Jordan Young, a sixth-year senior, had endured 33 losses in 44 ODU games until the latest winning streak began.

“After going through loss after loss, you appreciate the wins a lot more,” he said. “You see all of the happy fans around here, the players and coaches all so happy. 

“It’s an awesome feeling for all of our hard work to be paying off, and for the community, for everyone at the school, to be happy about the team.”

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