Pandemonium in Norfolk once again; ODU Defeats Hokies 20-17 in Home Opener


Elena Harris

ODU students and football team celebrate at midfield after the victory over Virginia Tech.

By Benjamin Draper, Sports Editor

It was an evening to remember in Norfolk as the Old Dominion football team opened up the 2022 season with a compelling matchup against the in-state Virginia Tech Hokies. This was a highly anticipated game for both schools that became a sellout with 21,944 in the stands. It was the largest crowd at S.B. Ballard stadium since 2019. Another thing to note is the head coach matchup which brought ODU head coach Ricky Rahne on the opposing side of the field against the new Hokies head coach Brent Pry. The two have a history with one another after coaching for several years as coordinators at Penn State. 

Dating back to 2018, the last time Virginia Tech made a trip to Norfolk, the Monarchs upended the Hokies, 49-35, at the old Foreman Field in the biggest victory in ODU football history. That victory was ODU’s first over a Power 5 school and to top that off, Tech was ranked 13th in the nation. It was a moment in ODU school history that will be cherished forever.

QB Hayden Wolff sits in the pocket and throws to his receiver. (Elena Harris)

The stadium was electric as kickoff was underway with the Hokies getting the ball first. Virginia Tech was led by junior quarterback Grant Wells who is quite familiar with the Monarchs after spending a few seasons with Marshall before transferring. On their second drive of the evening, the Hokies would find their way into the ODU red zone. Wells would take the read-option up the wide-open lane for 18-yards and strike the first blow as Virginia Tech took the 7-0 lead. The first quarter was more of a defensive battle before the Monarchs found themselves with an opportunity to get on the board. After failing to convert the third and goal, freshman kicker Ethan Sanchez successfully made the 29-yard field goal to cut the game to four. 

The game would stay 7-3 until late in the first half when the Hokies could not convert the third down and were forced to attempt a field goal. On the ensuing field goal try, the Hokie snap goes way past the kicker and the Monarchs defense picks up the loose ball and gets into the endzone for a scoop-and-score to give ODU their first lead of the evening 10-7. The Monarchs led Virginia Tech 10-7 going into halftime. Coming out of the break, it seemed to be a turn of the tide for the Hokies as they came out with great adjustments. Virginia Tech would successfully convert their next field goal attempt for 44-yards to tie the game at 10. 

The Monarchs’ offense would not be able to get anything done offensively to begin the second half. On the ensuing Hokies possession, Wells

Kicker Ethan Sanchez attempts the field goal in the fourth quarter against the Hokies. (Elena Harris)

finds his target in the endzone to regain the Virginia Tech lead 17-10. Going into the fourth quarter, it could have gone either way as it was only a one-possession ball game. The ODU offense began to find its rhythm again and got into the Hokie red zone after sophomore quarterback Hayden Wolff found his big junior tight end, Zack Kuntz. The Monarchs would fail to convert on third and goal and had to settle for another field goal to make it 17-13.

After a few drives, the Hokies had the opportunity to close the game by running the clock down while driving down the field, but the ODU defense stood firm with another interception on Wells. The game was now in Wolff’s hands to go down the field and secure the win. On the first play of the drive, Wolff finds junior wide receiver Ali Jennings III for a huge 24-yard pass to put the Monarchs at midfield. On a pivotal fourth down, the Monarchs convert as running back Blake Watson makes a couple of shifty moves to get the first down. With the clock running down to a minute, Wolff makes another huge throw to Jennings III again for 36-yards to put ODU on the one-yard line along with a pass interference penalty on the Hokies defender. A few plays later, Watson would power his way into the endzone to put the Monarchs up 20-17 with just 33 seconds left in the game.

WR Ali Jennings III hauls in the long pass to put the Monarchs in scoring position late in the fourth quarter. (Elena Harris )

The Monarchs’ defense would not let the Hokies retaliate as sophomore cornerback LaMareon James intercepted Wells to seal the deal. The Monarch offense would get into victory formation and that was the game. Old Dominion defeated the Virginia Tech Hokies 20-17 and about 5,000 students jumped the rails and flooded the field to celebrate with their team. Wolff finished the evening 14-35 for 165 yards along with Jennings with five receptions for 122 yards. Watson finished the game rushing for 61 yards and a touchdown. The Monarch defense played a big part in the Monarchs’ victory after causing four turnovers and a fumble recovery scoop-and-score.

CB LaMareon James silences the Hokie crowd after getting the game-winning interception. (Elena Harris)

After the game, Rahne was a bit emotional after this victory over the Hokies, but he acknowledged the atmosphere and knew that they could have done better offensively, but they made the plays that mattered in the end. “That’s what college football is all about right there. This was an awesome atmosphere. This was a special night. I know a lot of these kids are never going to forget it. “There were plays available all night and we just didn’t make them, that’s fine. That happens sometimes. But at the end, Hayden Wolff made some huge plays.” 

It was an exciting night at S.B. Ballard stadium and an evening that will be remembered for many years. The Monarchs are on the road for the next two weeks as they play East Carolina next weekend on September 10th before having another big in-state matchup with the Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville, VA on the 17th. ODU returns home on September 24th for a white-out game against Arkansas State, the first Sun Belt conference opponent of the Monarchs era.