Western Kentucky Crashes ODU Homecoming

By Jalen Hannah, Associate Sports Editor

Originally published October 18, 2021.


ODU came into their homecoming game against Western Kentucky believing that they were a good team who had been hurting themselves with their own mistakes, ultimately causing them to end up on the wrong side of games early in the year. They may very well still think this after their fifth straight loss on homecoming, but a 43-20 blowout is going to require them to take a hard look in the mirror and truly ask themselves what needs to be fixed in order to start seeing better results.


Head Coach Ricky Rahne must’ve felt that one change he could’ve made to positively impact the team would be a change at quarterback. Up to this point in the season, DJ Mack was the man behind center for the Monarchs. However, the team’s inconsistencies when it came to moving the ball offensively had them starting games slow, which led to them being down early in multiple contests. After last weekend’s game against Marshall in which ODU was only able to put up 13 points in the loss, Coach Rahne felt it was time to put another man at the helm of ODUs offense. To fulfill this role, the coach turned to none other than redshirt freshman Hayden Wolff. This would set Hayden up to make his first start of the 2021 season. This came as a shock to the fans at S.B. Ballard Stadium, as it was announced that he would be starting shortly before kickoff. This was something ODU knew they were going to be doing early into the week. However, Coach Rahne said during his presser that he knew Hayden would be starting “on Sunday”, which was the day after their loss against Marshall. With ODU having a new quarterback leading the charge for them, there was hope that this would provide the team with the spark they needed. Unfortunately that was not the case.


Both teams came into the contest struggling with a combined record of 2-9. This meant something would have to give with two teams wanting to get on the right track, setting up what was expected to be a competitive game on homecoming weekend. However, the slow starts continued for Old Dominion both offensively and defensively. Western Kentucky won the coin toss and elected to get the first offensive possession in which they were able to march down the field against the Monarch defense. ODU was able to buckle down, however, and keep the Western Kentucky offense from reaching the red zone. This led to a field goal attempt that was missed. This gave the ball to ODU as they began their first drive with decent field position. After this, the ODU offense, led by Hayden Wolff, came onto the field.


The crowd was excited to see what the offense led by Wolff would be capable of, and surely the team was anxious to find out as well. The first drive didn’t go as smoothly as they may have planned it though. The first drive for ODU went rather quickly as they were unable to move the ball effectively, forcing ODU to punt the ball back to the opposition. Nerves may have been a factor for the young quarterback coming into the game, as it can be difficult to be put in a new spot for the first time. Hayden himself, however, isn’t one to find excuses for himself. He told the media during his postgame presser that he prepares every week as if he’s going to be the starter. “Week to week I prepare like I’m gonna be the starter. Each week I kind of go about preparing for the game like I was gonna be going out there and playing. I wasn’t surprised, I wasn’t shocked. When my time came I didn’t change anything in my preparation.” Hayden also said that he found out he was going to be starting after losing to Marshall, which gave him a full week to prepare as the starter.


It was urgent that Hayden and the entire team came out prepared if they wanted to win on homecoming, but that wasn’t the case for them. A penalty called against ODU extended the second drive for Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers were able to capitalize on this penalty and find the end zone for the first points of the afternoon when quarterback Bailey Zappe threw a 29 yard strike to Malachi Corley. Zappe and the Western Kentucky offense didn’t struggle nearly as much as ODU did. He completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 397 yards and five touchdowns, shredding the defense of Old Dominion.


Western Kentucky set the tone of the game early with their aggressive game plan on offense, shots downfield and going for all the marbles on late down situations. ODU did a decent job on the next possession for Western Kentucky, but penalties were their downfall again as it helped the Western Kentucky offense march to the red zone. Zappe, shortly after reaching the red zone, threw a shot in the end zone that was mishandled by one of his receivers ending up in the hands of one of ODU’s defenders. The Monarch defender couldn’t get a grip on the ball either, causing it to be bobbled around in the end zone until miraculously finding the hands of a Western Kentucky receiver for another touchdown. This was a missed opportunity for ODU and the play was soon acknowledged as a sign of what was to come for Old Dominion the rest of the game.


In the second quarter, Coach Rahne called a timeout to talk over a crucial third down play. ODU forced a turnover on downs after Western Kentucky failed a fourth down attempt. This put them in position to make it a game again if they came away with points, so it was understandable why Rahne would use a timeout in this situation. However, coming out of the timeout, ODU failed to make something out of the opportunity as Wolff threw an interception that Western Kentucky returned to the ODU 41-yard line. Shortly after that, a Monarch defender was flagged for a horse collar, moving Western Kentucky up 15-yards well into the red zone. Zappe found another receiver in the end zone the next play to take a commanding 21-0 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the half.


ODU was finally able to move the football on their next drive. An impressive back shoulder throw from Wolff set the Monarchs up in Western Kentucky territory. Shortly after that, running back Blake Watson found a hole in the defense and ran up field for 15-yards, putting ODU in the red zone. The fun stopped, however, after Wolff was sacked on third down, forcing ODU to settle for a field goal from 44-yards out to give them their first points of the game. With just over two minutes left in the half, it seemed as if ODU was content with going into the locker room trailing 21-3.


However, everything that could’ve gone wrong for ODU did in the first half- and the last two minutes were no exception. The Hilltoppers were able to dig a deeper hole for ODU right before halftime, as Zappe threw a 74-yard strike for another touchdown. They missed the extra point, so the score remained 27-3 with Old Dominion getting the ball back. The misery continued for ODU as they turned the ball over on downs, followed by a Western Kentucky field goal to go into halftime with a score of 30-3.


Both teams traded field goals early in the third quarter to make the score 33-6. Scoring for both teams stalled in the third quarter with neither side being able to add more during the quarter. As rain began to pour down in Norfolk in a game ODU was already trailing big, many fans decided at that time that it would be best to leave the stadium and head home. While the fans had the convenience of leaving whenever things got rough, ODU had no choice but to stand in the rain and find some fight to compete for one more quarter.


ODU without a doubt played their best football in the fourth quarter. They finally found the end zone, as sophomore running backs Elijah Davis and Blake Watson both got a score of their own. Western Kentucky quickly answered back as they got another touchdown and field goal in the quarter bringing the score to 43-20. This ended up being the final score. The game ended up being a very tough pill to swallow for ODU on their homecoming weekend. Even with a new quarterback in for the Monarchs, the offensive struggles continued, leading to their fifth straight loss.


Hayden Wolff, in his first start, threw for 327 yards and two interceptions. Wolff knows his play wasn’t good enough and won’t give himself an excuse. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. I have to do a better job just executing the offense and doing what the coaches ask of me which I promise to do moving forward.”


Coach Rahne still believes that Wolff will be the better option for ODU to win games moving forward, stating that he will remain the starter. He also clarified that him being the starter for the future is only for the rest of this season. ODU will have a bye week this week, which will give Hayden and the rest of the team time to reset mentally and physically before hosting Louisiana Tech on October 30. Kickoff is slated for 3:30pm.