NORFOLK, Va. – Old Dominion University’s football team lost a heartbreaker Saturday at S.B. Ballard on a night when its offense finally found solid footing.
Texas-San Antonio ate up nearly seven minutes on a 78-yard drive capped by a 11-yard pass from Lowell Narcisse to Carlos Strickland that tied the game at 23-all with 2:41 left. Hunter Duplessis then kicked the point after touchdown that proved to be the difference in UTSA’s 24-23 victory.
ODU needed a field goal to win, and things looked promising when, on fourth down and six, freshman quarterback Hayden Wolff threw an 11-yard pass to Aaron Moore to give the Monarchs a first down at the 41.
They needed another 20 yards or so to get into field goal range for Nick Rice. However, on second down, Wolff was rushed from the pocket and hit from the blind side. He fumbled and UTSA recovered and then ran out the clock.
“I held onto the ball too long,” Wolff said.
It was a bitter defeat for ODU (1-9, 0-6 C-USA), which led 20-10 at halftime and looked to be taking control on the game late in the third quarter when the Monarchs led 23-10.
If there was a bright spot for the Monarchs it was their offense, which coming into the game ranked the worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Monarchs had a season-high 371 total offensive yards and Wolff, a true freshman playing in his first home game, completed 17 of 29 passes for 247 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
LaLa Davis added 55 yards rushing and Kesean Strong 32.
“We played our tails off,” coach Bobby Wilder said. “For a team that hasn’t had success in the win column, our guys are absolutely playing their hearts out.
“The way Hayden Wolff played today was outstanding for a guy just playing his second game.
“That’s a quarterback who’s maturing, who’s learning to play the game.”
The victory was critical for UTSA (4-5, 3-2), which coming into this game needed three victories in its last four games to become bowl eligible.
UTSA got on the board in the game’s first two minutes on Sincere McCormick’s 46-yard touchdown run.
ODU responded on its third possession, which began on the ODU 49 thanks to a shanked UTSA punt. Wolff connected with Nigel Fitgerald on a 26-yard pass, followed by a 23-yard run from LaLa Davis.
On second and goal, Robert Washington bulled into a pile of linemen and officials marked the ball at the 1, even though replays showed he bounced into the end zone. The Monarchs were forced to settle for a 29-yard Nick Rice field goal.
UTSA extended the lead to 10-3 on a 22-yard Duplessis field goal, but then the Monarch offense kicked into gear.
On its next possession, ODU drove 80 yards for a touchdown on a drive that ended with the most spectacular offensive play of the season. It was a flea flicker, in which Wolff tossed the ball in the flat to Steven Williams Jr, a lefthanded former quarterback who laid out a perfect pass caught on the run by Isaiah Spencer just before he entered the end zone.
The 42-yard reception was the first touchdown scored at home by ODU since Sept. 28, when the Monarchs fell to East Carolina.
Less than two minutes later, Wolff hit Aaron Moore on the run for a 58-yard TD pass that gave ODU a 17-10 lead.
UTSA then drove 65 yards and appeared headed for a touchdown when Brady Brenden was hit by Geronda Hall and fumbled just before he toppled into the end zone. The ball was recovered by ODU safety Harrell Blackmon and ruled a touchback.
On ODU’s next possession, the Monarchs stalled, but Rice kicked a 37-yarder to make it 20-10, a lead the Monarchs carried into halftime.
Late in a third quarter dominated by the two defense, ODU drove from its own 6 to the UTSA 19, but on third down, Jake Herslow dove for a Wolff passes and it just bounced off his fingers. Rice kicked a 36-yard field goal to extend the ODU lead to 23-10 with 2:58 left in the third quarter.
But then the momentum shifted and the rest of the game belonged to UTSA.
The Roadrunners drove 85 yards on a touchdown drive capped by a two yard run from Sincere McCormick two minutes early in fourth quarter. The conversation kick by Duplessis trimmed the ODU lead to 23-17.
Needing to run the clock and score, the Monarchs drove to midfield but stalled.
UTSA then mounted its 78 yard game-winning touchdown drive.
Wilder said the key to the UTSA victory was the fourth quarter, “when we just could not get a stop.”
The Monarchs’ defense has been rocked by injuries, and in the fourth quarter “we had some walk-ons out there playing their hearts out.”
ODU has its second bye week of the season next week and then travels to Middle Tennessee on Nov. 23.
ODU plays its final home game of the season on Saturday, Nov. 30, at 2 p.m. at S.B. Ballard Stadium.
Wilder announced to the team following the game that practice has been cancelled until Friday. He was pleased, he said, when he then saw Wolff huddle with receivers.
“Hayden was absolutely distraught after the game because of the fumble,” Wilder said.
“But he called the receivers together and said, ‘we can’t take any days off.’
“There’s so much hope for our future with Hayden Wolff now at quarterback.”