Football Championship Subdivision playoff football was in full effect as the Monarchs of Old Dominion went to battle with the Georgia Southern University Eagles. The quarterfinals game was a rematch of last year’s 55-48 duel in the second round of the 2011 playoffs where the Monarchs fell to the Eagles. From start to finish the intensity of the game could be heard and felt throughout the packed stadium.
The Eagles came into the game as the top rushing team in the nation and left Norfolk showing the Monarchs why they had that label. Junior quarterback Jerick McKinnon stood at the helm of the deadly triple option offense for the Eagles. Through the first half, the Eagles had already amassed 242 rushing yards. As efficiently as the Eagles ran the ball, McKinnon only had to put it in the air seven times, completing one for 15 yards.
Sophomore running back Dominique Swope had a field day on the ground with 22 carries for 186 yards and two touchdowns. The defense of the Eagles seemed to have their backs against the wall early, but as the game progressed they got stronger, getting key takeaways that turned into 14 points. When asked about how he thought the team performed McKinnon said, “Old Dominion is a great team, and I think we play a good game overall.”
It was a bittersweet day for Taylor Heinicke and the Monarchs. Although they took the loss, Heinicke broke two impressive records. The sophomore sensation threw for 421 yards, three touchdowns and surpassed Steve Mcnair for the most passing yards in a single season. Heinicke also set the record for most passes completed in a season, previously set by Jeremy Moses from Stephen F. Austin in 2009.
Heinicke didn’t look much into his stats saying, “Those mean nothing to me, we didn’t get the win, and that’s what matters so that’s not important.” The game changing play occurred when Heinicke was hit from behind in the pocket and fumbled the football, eventually being recovered by Georgia Southern.
When the play happened, the Monarchs were up 35-28 and in the red zone. “Since that fumble I had in the red zone, everything went downhill from there. The momentum just shifted their way. Once I fumbled the ball, we just couldn’t get the offense going, and credit their defense. They played really well,” Heinicke said.
Redshirt senior Nick Mayers had another great outing, logging 10 catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Antonio Vaughn also contributed six grabs for 146 yards and one touchdown.
The Eagles had a field day in thefourth quarter, scoring 28 unanswered points to grab the 14 point lead and hold on at the end. Defensively, the Eagles made a huge stop on fourth and six when Heinicke tried to connect with running back Tyree Lee but the pass was broken up.
Originally, Jonathan Plisco was on the field to punt, but a Georgia Southern injury gave Coach Wilder more time to dwell on it and when the Monarchs re-took the field, Heinicke and company were ready to go. “Initially, at the point in the game, it was 35-35 and my thought was we were going to run a fake punt, and there was an injured [player], that gave me more time to think about it, and I felt like putting the ball back in Taylor’s hands,” Coach Wilder said.
The Monarchs were aggressive on play calling all throughout the day, going 1-2 on fourth down conversions. “I felt at that point in the game, that our best option was to go for it. I don’t regret the call. I don’t second guess making that call. I felt like we needed to be aggressive. I felt like there [were] two more possessions left.” The nail was put in the coffin when Nick Mayers was out battled for a catch by senior safety JJ Cox. McKinnon would then go on to score on a 1 yard quarterback sneak.
In their final year in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Monarchs had the best season of the program so far. They finished at the top of the conference and posted a program best 11-2 record, advancing to the Final eight of the playoffs for the first time in school history.
“Honestly, we didn’t want it to end like this. Four years ago, if you would’ve told us that it would end like this, a lot of us wouldn’t have believed you,” senior Linebacker Craig Wilkins said.
The Monarchs have posted the best record in four years by a startup program. “This team was way too good to leave this early, a great team with great players, great coaches, and great people. It’s just upsetting to see us leave this early,” Mayers said.
Although this loss will hurt Monarch fans for a while, there are many positive things to look forward to with the Old Dominion football program. Next year, when the Monarchs take the field, they’ll be in a Conference-USA state of mind. The Monarchs live by a quote that will carry into next year: “One Team. One Year. One Shot.”
By: Mitchell Brown