ODU Stays Close, Outlasted by Pitsburg
Coming into the 2013 season Monarchs (4-3) coach Bobby Wilder wanted his team to prove that they belong in the Football Bowl Championship Series (FBS).
As it gears for a completely new conference next season playing in the Conference USA (C-USA), the Monarchs scheduled three games against a tough Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), a conference who coming in to Saturday had 3 undefeated teams ranked top 10 in the country.
As Harry Minium Virginian- Pilot ODU football beat writer for ODUblitz.com said, “The Monarchs were humbled, 47-10, at Maryland on Sept. 7 in their first game ever against an ACC team.”
In that game the first team offense did not reach the end zone.
Saturday evening the Monarchs played against the Pittsburgh Panthers (4-2), at Heinz Field.
Unlike the state of shock against Maryland where they were dominated, ODU struck first against Pitt.
Taylor Heinicke drove the team right down the field, capping off the opening drive with a 15 yard touchdown strike to senior Marquel Thomas.
After the teams traded series of 3 straight punts (two of which were Pittsburgh’s) Monarchs senior kicker Jared Brown converted the longest field of his career from 54 yards. This was also the longest made field goal in Heinz Field history, NFL or NCAA.
Old Dominion looked poised to prove they could play with one of stingiest scoring defenses in the country. Pittsburgh entered the game relinquishing only 21 points per game. Previously, the Panthers had given up three to Virginia and 19 to Virginia Tech respectively.
Monarchs did just that, scoring 24 in a 35-24 loss.
After jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, the Panthers roared back.
Junior running back Isaac Bennett went beast mode on the Monarchs, rushing 30 times for 240 yards.
Coming into the game Pittsburgh run game was struggling, the last two weeks carrying the ball 61 times for 31 yards.
Old Dominion came into the game giving up 1263 rushing yards, including 453 in a thrilling 59-58 victory over The Citadel on Sept. 28.
Pitt scored 28 unanswered points, behind three Bennett rushing touchdowns of 25, three and 16 yards. Quarterback Tom Savage, capped the fourth straight unanswered touchdown drive with a 21-yard strike to receiver Manasseh Garner.
Heinicke finally struck back when tossed a 47 yard strike to junior Blair Roberts who shook free of defenders and found himself in the end zone, bringing the score to 28-17.
As he often does Wilder took a huge chance on the ensuing kickoff, Brown faked kicking it deep and dribbled the ball with great execution 11 yards and secured it.
Wilder shifted his running back depth chart decided to start junior receiver Antonio Vaughan in the backfield. Vaughan took advantage, turning 15 attempts into 70 yards and a 17 yard touchdown on the possession after the onside kick.
Monarchs rallied and cut the lead to 28-24 with 4:35 remaining in the third quarter.
The defense held serve for the rest of the quarter but the offense couldn’t take advantage.
“We had the momentum at that point,” Heinicke said. “At that point it was a matter of getting a stop and getting another score.”
The Monarchs began to implode after they forced a third down incompletion, defensive end Terrell Reid was called for roughing the passer, one of ODU’s 14 penalties for 109 yards.
That drive resulted in a touchdown.
“That sequence was the key to the game,” Wilder said. “We blitzed on that play, we got to Tom, we got him out of the pocket. He was clearly throwing the ball out of bounds. We had two freshmen out there who are excited and just don’t know when to pull off.
“That was a critical mistake that turned the game. We had just scored back to back touchdowns. We had momentum. That flipped the momentum back to the Pittsburgh side.”
Monarchs got into Pittsburgh territory twice more but couldn’t do anything with it.
The game was essentially over after Heinicke threw an interception with 2:35 remaining, and one timeout.
Heinicke played much better against FBS competition this time, completing 31 of his 52 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns.
“Old Dominion is a good football team,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “Their quarterback was as good as advertised.”
“I felt like Pittsburgh was the best team we’ve played this year,” Wilder said. “I’m really pleased with the progress we’ve made. We’re a much better football team than we were.”
By Brian Saunders