Costly Mistakes Hinder the Monarchs; ODU falls to Liberty 38-24

ODU played against Liberty under the Norfolk lights in a Commonwealth showdown.

ODU Athletics

ODU played against Liberty under the Norfolk lights in a Commonwealth showdown.

Benjamin Draper and Art Neal

After their Sun Belt opening victory last weekend, the Old Dominion football team was back at home with a matchup against a familiar Commonwealth foe: Liberty University. The Monarchs came into the weekend with a 2-2 (1-0 Sun Belt) record as the Flames arrived in Norfolk with a 3-1 record. As an independent school, the Liberty squad’s only loss came against 19th-ranked Wake Forrest when the Flames failed the two-point conversion to defeat the Demon Deacons. It was ODU’s third Commonwealth clash so far this season.

Hayden Wolff slings the ball to his wide receiver to move the chains. (Elena Harris)

Coming into Saturday evening, it was up in question how the weather would pan out for both teams after Norfolk was hit by the remnants of Hurricane Ian on Friday, but it turned into a perfectly clear, cool evening under the lights. The Monarchs received the opening kickoff, but their opening drive stalled short after sophomore quarterback Hayden Wolff threw an interception on third down. Junior tight end Zack Kuntz went down early on and did not return to the action. Liberty took advantage of their opportunity on the first play of the drive and struck a long 34-yard one-handed snag that had S.B. Ballard in awe. The reception was spectacular enough to be featured on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays at the #1 position. 

Both teams wound up with punts on the next few possessions in the first until Liberty found the endzone again with a 41-yard pass down the middle that gave the Flames a 14-0 advantage. On the ensuing drive, Wolff and the Monarchs’ offense were able to establish a good drive. After a holding call that put the ODU offense back, junior running back Blake Watson found a hole and scrambled downfield for 30 yards to the Flames’ 35-yard line. Wolff found his target in freshman wide receiver Peter Kikwata for 23-yards. On the next play, Wolff rushed the ball 8-yards into the endzone to put ODU on the board. 

WR Ali Jennings III points up to his QB after tying the game up at 14. (Elena Harris)

The Monarch defense began to find its stride as they got an interception on the ensuing Liberty possession, which put ODU in great field position. The first big play of the Monarchs’ drive came with a 24-yard reception from wide receiver Ali Jennings III that got ODU in the red zone. Later in the drive, Wolff and Jennings connected again for a 4-yard touchdown that brought the game within one. The first quarter came to a close with the game tied at 14. After giving up 14 unanswered points, the Flames drove back down the field and scored another touchdown with a 29-yard rush down the middle of the field to make it 21-14 Liberty. 

ODU would not relent and began their next drive down the field. Wolff caught another big reception through the air, but this time from sophomore wide receiver Javon Harvey that went for 27-yards. After the reception, the Monarchs’ offense could not convert on their next set of downs and a 34-yard field goal from freshman kicker Ethan Sanchez made the score 21-17. Throughout the rest of the first half, the score remained the same and Liberty held the advantage at the break. 

The Flames opened the second half with possession, but that didn’t count for much since they were forced to punt. On the other side of the ball, the Monarchs’ offense was also not able to make anything happen and gave the ball right back to Liberty. Taking a few more minutes off of the third quarter, the Flames extended their lead to 24-17 after a successful 49-yard field goal. 

RB Blake Watson rushes his way towards the end zone as Liberty defenders try to chase him down. (Elena Harris)

On the next ODU offensive possession, Wolff opened the drive with a 10-yard scramble that moved the chains. Watson earned seven more yards on the first down before Wolff found him for 21-yards through the air to move the ball into Flames’ territory. ODU continued to pound the run game as they inched closer to the endzone. On second down inside the Liberty red zone, Wolff turned to his right and found Watson for the reception, which then turned into a scramble to the pylon for a touchdown that tied things back up at 24. Before the end of the third quarter, the Flames continued to excel on the offensive side and scored another touchdown to regain a 31-24 advantage.

Once the game reached the fourth quarter, the ODU offense lost its touch and the penalties began to pile up. With 12 minutes left in the fourth, the Flames went back to work on offense and drove the ball down the field with precious minutes going by. The Liberty passing game continued to thrive as they converted a 25-yard reception and a 41-yard reception, which was also the third passing touchdown of the evening. With under seven minutes to go in the contest, the Flames led ODU 38-24. There was a bit of a late surge from the ODU offense, but Liberty killed all hopes of a comeback with a forced fumble recovery on Wolff. The score remained the same for the rest of the evening and Old Dominion fell 38-24. 

ODU shot itself in the foot on various occasions, but the team never quit fighting. Wolff finished the evening having completed 27 of 46 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. The ODU offense, which has struggled for much of the season, had a season-high of 419 yards. They also had a good night on the ground, with 118 yards against Liberty.  The Monarchs finished the evening with 14 total penalties that resulted in 120 yards; a painful stat to see. Through the air, Jennings III finished the game with eight receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, Watson finished with 80 yards on 18 carries with an average of 5.3 yards a play. 

A frustrated Ricky Rahne looks on as the game dwindles down in the fourth quarter. (Elena Harris)

In the post-game press conference, head coach Ricky Rahne shared his thoughts on the penalties throughout the evening and how close the team is to taking the next leap. “What I saw is that we did not use enough techniques and fundamentals and we put ourselves in a position to get penalties called,” Rahne stated. “We’re right there. We know nothing magical is going to happen. We’ve just got to keep working.”

The Monarchs drop to 2-3 (1-0 Sun Belt) on the season and end their non-conference schedule as they look ahead to Sun Belt action the rest of the way. ODU will be on a bye week next weekend before traveling down to Conway, S.C. to play against Coastal Carolina on Oct. 15. The next time Old Dominion will play in Norfolk will be  Oct. 22, when they will host Georgia Southern for homecoming week.