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Mace & Crown | January 17, 2018

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ODU Football Takes Down UTEP, 31-21

Matt O’Brien
Sports Editor

ODU Football is one game closer to being bowl eligible as they secured their fifth win of the season 31-21 over the UTEP Miners. The victory came on the heels of a very strong performance defensively and a record breaking day from wide receiver Zach Pascal.

“A great overall performance today from this team. I thought all three phases were solid in this game. UTEP wanted to win just as bad as we did, our guys just really stepped up,” said Head Coach Bobby Wilder.

The 10 point win is one of the biggest margins of victory in conference play. The last few home games have been unimpressive for the Monarchs and Wilder was very quick to give credit to the fans and the boost they provided for his team.

“I can’t speak enough about the fans and their impact on this game, how much energy we got from them. Our last few home games have not been our best. You need that momentum from the crowd at this point of the season. It’s week 15, the guys are tired and sore,” he said.

The Miners got off to a quick start, driving down the field and converting on a seven yard touchdown pass on their opening drive. However, the extra point was not successful.

“The first drive they came out doing some things we weren’t prepared for. It was a different style running game we weren’t seeing on film,” safety Felonte Misher said. Misher played a big part in the defensive success, getting two interceptions in the win.

The Monarchs were able to answer rather quickly on their next drive. ODU drove 86 yards down the field on 14 plays. Quarterback David Washington went 5-7 for 66 yards but a defensive stop in the red zone forced the Monarchs to settle for a field goal. Washington was critical of his performance early on in this match-up.

“We have some work to do offensively. We took sacks because of decisions I made. But from the o-line to receivers and my running backs, the protection was great. They played well and fought really hard,” Washington said.

Washington’s day was far from over. After a 61 yard kickoff return, the ODU defense stalled the Miners and held them to a field goal. At the start of the second quarter the Monarch offense proved how efficient they can be, needing just seven plays to drive 74 yards on a scoring drive. Washington dished out a block downfield that helped spring running back Ray Lawry free on a 42 yard touchdown run.

“You don’t see quarterbacks blocking like that every day. David is just an incredible athlete,” receiver Zach Pascal said.

The connection between Pascal and Washington caused a lot of problems for the Miner defense. After neither offense could get much going for most of the second quarter, UTEP took a 15-10 lead late in the first half after a failed two point conversion.

With just over a minute remaining in the half, the Monarch offense once again put together a very efficient drive. They drove 78 yards downfield in just 58 seconds. Washington dropped a beautiful 26 yard ball right into the hands of Pascal and the Monarchs took a 17-15 lead. The drive was kept alive by a big third down reception from freshman running back Jeremy Cox.

Cox played an instrumental role in the win by racking up 154 all-purpose yards and taking the pressure off Ray Lawry, who was bothered by a foot injury.

The story of the second half was the play of the defense. In the third quarter the defense only allowed a mere 28 yards.

“Their power run was getting to us. The key defensively for us became the blitz. We had to add more pressure up front and get guys like Felonte closer to the action,” Wilder said.

With the right adjustments being made at half and a blitz heavy game plan, ODU caused a lot of pressure in the pocket, taking the Miner offense out of rhythm. The UTEP offensive line has only allowed eight sacks in 10 games this year and the Monarchs were able to get to the quarterback three times.

“We always come prepared as a defense. Fewer mistakes were made today and we made a lot of big plays. That is the most three-and-outs I’ve seen our defense get in a game I’ve been a part of,” Misher said.

With such solid defensive play, the offense was able to hold on to the ball and dominate time of possession in the second half. Washington added another touchdown pass to receiver Jonathan Duhart to give the Monarchs a 24-15 lead entering the fourth.

After a Misher interception halfway through the fourth, the Monarchs were able to capitalize on the very next play giving them a 31-15 lead. UTEP however was able to cut it down to a two possession game with an eight play, 74 yard scoring drive to cut the deficit to 10.

The defensive proved to be too much for the Miners, as Misher recorded his second interception on UTEP’s final drive to secure the win.

“It was a fundamentally sound day for the defense. There’s a lot of momentum gained from multiple stops in a row. It means a lot to hear the fans get that excited at the end,” senior linebacker Martez Simpson said. Simpson recorded six tackles and two for a loss.

Washington ended his day 26-42, 291 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. His No. 1 receiver Zach Pascal tied Nick Mayers for most receptions in one game by an ODU receiver, getting 12 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown.

“Since David’s emergence as quarterback the play of Zach Pascal is about as good as I’ve ever seen a receiver play at Old Dominion, and we’ve had some fantastic receivers,” Wilder said.In the hopes of keeping their bowl eligibility alive, the Monarchs will take on Southern Miss next week.

“We have to take it week by week. Next game is our most important of the season. We really need to attack practice this week with a sense of urgency,” Washington said.