NORFOLK, Va. (ODU Athletics/Harry Minium) – Coming off perhaps their biggest victory of the season, a road game in which Old Dominion’s football team was absolutely dominant at previously unbeaten Coastal Carolina, the Monarchs fell at home to Georgia Southern 28-23 on Saturday night at Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium.
ODU narrowed what had been a 21-10 lead to five, 28-23, on Blake Watson’s two-yard touchdown run with 5:19 left. But the Monarchs were unable to stop the Georgia Southern offense until 32 seconds remained, and it simply wasn’t enough time for ODU to march nearly the length of the field.
ODU (3-4 overall, 2-1 SBC) was coming off a 49-21, victory at Coastal Carolina, but could not muster the same offensive firepower against Georgia Southern (5-3, 2-2).
“We just didn’t have enough energy,” coach Ricky Rahne said. “We were doing our assignments, but we just didn’t do it with passion and that’s on me. I talked about discipline throughout the week, self-discipline, and I think that metastasized itself into less passion, which obviously was not the message I was going for.”
ODU outgained Georgia Southern, 461-415, but the Eagles made the tough plays when they were needed.
Georgia Southern scored touchdowns on its two drives into the red zone. ODU was 3 of 5, but two of the scores were field goals.
Georgia Southern quarterback Kyle Vantrease was outstanding. Although ODU used a defensive scheme intended to stop the pass, he completed 22 of 27 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown. Forced to run, the Eagles did so well, rushing for 192 yards, including 138 yards and a touchdown from Jalen White.
Hayden Wolff played well at quarterback for ODU, completing 23 of 40 passes for 328 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Ali Jennings III, who is having an outstanding season, hauled in nine passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.
Tailback Blake Watson, who set a single-game rushing record at Coastal Carolina, rushed 16 times for 108 yards and a touchdown.
ODU linebacker Jason Henderson continued to have what looks like an All-American season. The sophomore tied his own school record of 21 tackles and is averaging nearly 16 per game.
But the only stat that mattered in this game was the final score. The loss knocked ODU out of first place in the Sun Belt.
“The bottom line is we’ve got to play with more energy coming into the game,” Wolff said. “It’s tough going into the red zone that many times and not coming away with points. We usually come out fired up, juiced up, and I feel like we didn’t do that today. And you know, it was all three phases, including the sidelines.”
Trailing 21-10, late in the third quarter, ODU slowly began to chip away the lead.
Freshman placekicker Ethan Sanchez, who missed two field goal attempts in the first half, trimmed the lead to 21-13 with a 35-yarder with 2:27 left in the third quarter.
Then a botched punt snap by Georgia Southern gave ODU possession on the Eagles’ 16.
ODU appeared to score when Jennings hauled in a 16-yard, third-down pass that refs said he did not control completely before going out of bounds.
The Monarchs called on Sanchez one more time and he drilled a 33-yard field goal with 21 seconds left in the third quarter that narrowed the margin to 21-16.
But Georgia Southern’s offense responded, driving 76 yards for a touchdown capped by a Gerald Green 3-yard TD run that ran the margin back to 12, 28-16, with 10 minutes left.
ODU’s offense then again responded, driving 67 yards on a drive kept alive when Wolff found Jennings for an eight-yard pass on fourth down at the 40. Watson then bulled into the end zone and Sanchez drilled the PAT to make it 28-23 with 5:19 left.
But on fourth down and 1 on the ODU 37 and 2:38 on the clock, Vantrease got just enough yardage for a first down.
Georgia Southern turned over the ball on downs with 32 seconds left but out of timeouts, the ODU offense was unable to move the ball.
“That was very frustrating,” safety R’Tarriun Johnson said of Georgia Southern’s last drive. “We got the ball back for the offense but it’s really frustrating that we weren’t able to do it earlier.”
Rahne said he was proud that Sanchez came back after missing two field goals and made two in the second half.
“I anticipated that,” he said. “If I hadn’t anticipated that, we would have gone for it more rather than kicking field goals. He’s had a couple of misses in practice before and he’s been able to bounce back and was locked in and ready to do. The fact that he bounced back shows that he has the mentality to be a very special kicker. I told him that after the game.”
Wolff said the lack of passion wasn’t a lack of motivation.
“There’s no team in America that wants to win as bad as we do,” he said. “There’s no team that’s been through as much as we have. So it’s just a matter of funneling our energy and getting the juice flowing into the right places.”
ODU next plays at Georgia State on Saturday, Oct. 29, at 3 p.m. The Monarchs are home again on Saturday, Nov. 5, when they take on Marshall at a time yet to be announced.