MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (Harry Minium, ODUSports.com) – The Old Dominion football team, once written off by wide swaths of the media as a poor team headed toward a miserable season, is now one victory away from a potential bowl bid.
ODU exploded for 14 points a three minute and 7 second stretch during the fourth quarter and defeated Middle Tennessee, 24-17, Saturday at Floyd Stadium.
Elijah Davis ran virtually untouched for a 45-yard touchdown with 12:06 left, and then Blake Watson ran 4 yards for a touchdown three minutes and 7 seconds later.
Jaylin Lane hauled in a 26-yard touchdown pass with 4:06 left that pulled Middle Tennessee within seven. But ODU recovered an on-side, and the Monarch defense came up big with 2:23 left, when freshman linebacker Jason Henderson forced a fumble, and it was recovered by Devin Brandt-Epps, the junior college transfer from Oklahoma.
The victory was the fourth in a row for ODU (5-6, 4-3 Conference USA) and keeps the team’s hopes of a bowl bid very much alive. ODU hosts Charlotte Saturday at 2 p.m. at S.B. Ballard Stadium.
Because ODU won and Charlotte (5-6, 3-4) lost at Marshall, the winner of the regular-season finale next weekend is bowl eligible while the losers is finished for the season.
It also ends a vexing drought to Middle Tennessee, which had beaten ODU in all four previous games. All four were blowouts and in 2017, the Blue Raiders knocked ODU out of bowl contention.
MTSU (5-6, 3-4) travels to Florida Atlantic this weekend, with the winner also likely to clinch one of Conference USA’s seven bowl bids.
Coach Ricky Rahne declined to talk about a potential bowl bid, as he has all season, but did acknowledge that after a 1-6 start, his program and his players were disparaged by some in the media.
“I kind of told our team to ignore the outside noise and they did a great job of that,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of people who haven’t believed in us for a long time.
“There’s a chip on our shoulder across the board. The way we started this thing, we knew that wasn’t going to be how we ended it. I’m just proud we’ve been able to go 1-0 again.”
Going 1-0 has been his weekly mantra and by that he meant focusing only on the next game, indeed the next day of practice, and not looking ahead.
“That’s how we’ve kept things together,” said senior cornerback Joe Joe Headen, who had an interception, one of two takeaways by the Monarchs.
“Honestly, we did a great job of ignoring the noise and staying within ourselves,” he said. “We always trusted each other. We believed in each other.
“We knew we were way better than our 1-6 record. We just had to put things together and now you can see that we’ve put things together.”
ODU dodged a bullet at the beginning of the fourth quarter, when Middle Tennessee lined up for what would have been a 24-yard field goal attempt that never happened.
A poor snap was bobbled by the holder, who was smothered by ODU’s R’Tarriun Johnson.
ODU began what would be a critical drive at its 18, with Hayden Wolff completing three passes, including two to Isiah Paige. Facing third and 3 at the 45, Davis burst up the middle and ran untouched for the touchdown.
ODU’s defense then forced a three and out and the Monarchs quickly scored again.
Wolff tossed a short pass to Ali Jennings, the transfer from West Virginia, who sprinted 60 yards to the MTSU 6. Two plays later, Wolff threw a pass to Blake Watson in the flat, and he rumbled into the end zone. It was ruled a run instead of a pass, but the result was the same.
Nick Rice’s kick gave ODU a 24-10 lead with 9:59 left.
“We’ve turned some heads,” Johnson said. “Next week we want to turn some more.”
Rahne said he hopes that, in spite of the Thanksgiving holiday, that ODU turns out a large crowd.
“We’ll be in front of our home crowd,” he said. “I know Monarch nation will be out there to support us.
“It’s a holiday weekend so I know everyone can come home and be there. I’d love to see that place and rocking and rolling.”
Sokoya McDuffie recorded a sack for the second-straight game … Zack Kuntz caught his fifth touchdown pass of the season … Nick Rice added to his single-season school record with his 19th field goal of the year, kicking a 35-yarder in the second half … With five first half tackles, Jordan Young passed TJ Ricks to move into second on the ODU all-time tackles charts … Joe Joe Headen’s third quarter interception was the third of his career and first since 2017 … Blake Watson’s four-yard touchdown run was his sixth of the season … Elijah Davis’ 45-yard touchdown run was his fifth of the season and 13th of his career … Jason Henderson’s game-clinching forced fumble was the second of his career … Watson carried 19 times for 62 yards and a TD, snapping his five-straight 100-yard game streak … Watson has 933 rushing yards on the year … Ali Jennings had four catches for 146 yards, including receptions of 43 and 60 yards … Tight end Zack Kuntz had a team-high eight catches for 68 yards and a touchdown … Henderson, R’Tarriun Johnson and Terry Jones had a team-high nine tackles.