NORFOLK, Va. – Old Dominion and James Madison renewed their football rivalry Saturday for the first time in a decade in the 72nd Oyster Bowl. And on a day when the Monarchs were without their top two offensive playmakers, the Monarchs simply could not get their offense going.
JMU rolled to a 37-3 victory at S.B. Ballard Stadium in the first meeting between the schools since 2012 and their first ever in the Sun Belt Conference.
ODU lost tight end Zack Kuntz to an injury earlier this season and wide receiver Ali Jennings III, one of the nation’s top pass receivers, also did not play. In his post-game press conference. ODU coach Ricky Rahne confirmed news reports that Jennings needs surgery and is done for the season.
The loss was ODU’s fourth in a row and eliminated the Monarchs (3-7 overall, 2-4 Sun Belt) from becoming bowl eligible.
JMU (6-3. 4-2) ended a three-game losing streak with the win.
Rahne said injuries were no excuse for ODU’s poor play.
“We didn’t play anywhere near well enough to win this game, really, in any facet,” he said. “So, that’s on me. I’ve got to find a way to get us to play better on Saturdays.”
Quarterback Hayden Wolff was under pressure much of the game and scrambled far more than usual, rushing for 43 yards on five carries. He was sacked four times for negative 21 yards. He completed 12-of-22 passes for 112 yards with two interceptions.
Dukes quarterback Todd Centeio completed 18-of-21 passes for 304 yards and ran for 17 more and a touchdown was named the Mel Blassingham Oyster Bowl MVP, while Kris Thornton had 140 yards receiving and they intercepted ODU quarterbacks three times.
Saturday’s game, witnessed by a crowd of 21,944, was ODU’s last home game. The Monarchs close out the season next Saturday at Appalachian State and on Nov. 26 at South Alabama.
James Madison scored the game’s first 17 points before Old Dominion made a field goal with five seconds left before halftime.
Rahne challenged his team after the game to play with more determination in ODU’s final two games.
“I told them that they need to fight,” he said. “I told them that life is hard. You’re not going to get what you want all of the time.
“Basically they get to make a personal decision right now. Are they going to pack it in because they don’t have an opportunity to make a bowl game or are they going to fight for each other and for the personal satisfaction of playing well and doing your job?”
Quarterback Brendon Clark, the transfer from Notre Dame, made his first appearance in an ODU uniform. He played the final two series for the Monarchs in the waning minutes and played well.
He drove the ball into the red zone on the final possession before throwing a pass that was on the mark but bobbled by an ODU receiver and taken away by the Dukes. He completed 2-of-4 passes for 37 yards and ran three times for 12.
Rahne said he inserted Clark in part because Wolff had taken quite a few hits and in part because Clark practiced well.
“I thought that Clark had practiced well during the week and deserved an opportunity,” Rahne said. “Nobody prepares harder and competes more than Hayden. But I just thought in that moment it was the right time to see what Brendon could do under some live bullets.”
Asked if Clark might start, Rahne said: “I plan on evaluating the tape on every position on our team and seeing who needs to be our starters.”
ODU and JMU were both members of the CAA when they last met in 2012. Both joined the Sun Belt on July 1.
ODU won the first two games in the series, 23-20, and 38-28, but the long-awaited renewal of the rivalry was never close.
JMU led, 14-0, after dominating the first 16 minutes and 11 seconds in which the Dukes outgained the Monarchs 176-26.
ODU mounted a threat on its next possession, in which Wolff twice scrambled for gains after being rushed from the pocket, including one on a fourth down, and hit freshman Ahmarian Granger with a 23-yard pass.
On fourth down, Javon Harvey (Lake Taylor HS, Norfolk, Va.) hauled in a 19-yard pass that referees at first ruled was long enough for a first down. However, after an official review, he was marked a yard short, and the ball turned over to JMU.
The Dukes then extended the lead to 17-0 on a 33-yard field from Camden Wise.
ODU’s defense then set up the offense nicely with 1:21 left in the half when Steven Williams Jr., the sixth-year linebacker playing his final game at S.B. Ballard Stadium, intercepted a pass and returned it 17 yards to the JMU 31. He was stripped of the ball while being tackled but linebacker Jason Henderson recovered.
The drive stalled on third and three at the 12, when a pass intended for Granger was broken up by Jalin Walker. Freshmen placekicker Ethan Sanchez then kicked a 29-yard field goal with five seconds left in the half to narrow the margin to 17-3.
ODU cornerback R’Tarriun Johnson, another senior playing his last home game, intercepted a pass on the second play of the second half and returned it 30 yards to the JMU 40. But he was stripped of the ball while being tackled and it was recovered by JMU’s Percy Agyei-Obese.
The Dukes followed with a 21-yard Wise field goal with 8:20 left in the third quarter to make it 20-3.
JMU’s Walker then intercepted a Wolff pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown and gave JMU a 27-3 lead.
Henderson, the sophomore from Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania, had 18 tackles and set the Sun Belt Conference single season tackling record with 166 tackles.
“I’m very thankful. I’m grateful I was able to do that,” he said. “But I have bigger things that I’m worried about right now than any of my own accolades. We as a team, coaches, players, everyone, we’ve got to motivate each other. It’s got to come within.
“That’s the only true motivation that’s going to allow us to keep fighting every single day and go 1-0 and make something good out of the rest of the season.”
“I actually think it’s a great gift that they know exactly how many opportunities they have left,” Rahne said. “And some of the seniors who won’t get an opportunity to play professional football know exactly how many opportunities they have left. I think that can be freeing in some respects.”
Notes: Wide receiver Ahmarian Granger made his first career start … Levi Wentz saw his first action of the season and took his first career snaps at wide receiver … Steven Williams recorded his first career interception in the second quarter … Jason Henderson recorded his 10th double-digit tackle game of the year … Marcus Haynes recorded his second career two sack game, matching his career-high from the 2018 win over Virginia Tech … R’Tarriun Johnson registered his first double-digit tackle game of the season with 10 tackles … Hayden Wollf rushed for a career-high 27 yards, including career long of 15 yards … Wide receiver Marqeese Dietz’ 13-yard reception was the first of his career … Jason Henderson set the single-season Sun Belt Conference record with 166 tackles, after an 18 tackle performance against JMU. The 166 tackles is currently tied for 18th most in a single-season in FBS history. He is tied with North Carolina’s Dexter Reid, who did it in 2002, and Toledo’s Dan Molls, who did it in 2012.