Monarchs Drop Homecoming Game vs Georgia Southern 28-23


Elena Harris

Battle in the trenches in the Monarchs homecoming game against GA. Southern

By Art Neal, Associate Sports Editor

The ODU campus was jumping prior to the kickoff of the Homecoming game on Saturday, Oct. 24th. The game kicked off as scheduled at 3:30 pm. ODU won the tip and decided to defer their possession to the second half, leaving Georgia Southern to receive the ball and open the game. Both teams were coming off influential wins; ODU had taken down the then-undefeated Coastal Carolina 49-21 the Saturday night prior, which brought their record to 3-3, 2-0 in Sun-Belt play. The Eagles were coming off a big win where they defeated #25 ranked James Madison University 45-38, bringing their record to 4-3, and 1-2 in Sun Belt play.

Junior RB Blake Watson finds a hole and sprints towards the endzone. (Elena Harris)

The first quarter opened with the ODU kickoff to Georgia Southern, which resulted in a touchback. The Eagles opening possession was not fruitful and a fumble on the 23-yard line pushed them back and led to a fourth down. This was followed by a 42-yard field goal attempt which missed the uprights and left the game scoreless with 10:42 left in the first. ODU’s first possession went quite similar to many others this semester as quarterback redshirt sophomore Hayden Wolff found his favorite receiver, Ali Jennings, for a gain enough for a first down. Following this, running back Blake Watson wiggled his way out of a handful of tackles on his way to a 47-yard run, putting the Monarchs in striking range of the Eagle’s endzone. Despite this strong start to the drive, the ODU offense was not able to put numbers on the board and was pushed back from the Georgia Southern seven-yard line and then forced to kick a field goal which bounced off the left upright and fell back into the endzone.

A possession later for the Monarchs after forcing an Eagle punt, sophomore Isiah Paige had a 24-yard kick return, which put ODU at almost midfield to start their second drive of the game. This possession was also dominated as he ran for 10+ yards on two out of his three handoffs, including a run where he completely reversed his running route after almost being tackled on the ODU sideline. This drive culminated in a career-long field goal for freshman Ethan Sanchez, a 42-yarder which put the Monarchs on the board 3-0 in the later portions of the first. Despite this, the Eagles were able to bounce back against the ODU field goal with a touchdown of their own with 10 seconds remaining in the first, making the score 7-3 Georgia Southern after 15.  

In the second 15 minutes of play, ODU had the ball first and made a push to take the lead. This possession started strong as Wolff found wide receiver Ahmarian Granger, a freshman and Maury graduate, for a big reception which put ODU on the Georgia Southern 35. Fast forward to fourth down; Wolff and crew went for it and came up short as the chain crew deemed the yardage was short of the first down with 12:38 left in the second. On the next Eagles possession, a one-armed tackle by defensive end Keshawn Lynch put the Eagles in a third-down situation. Despite this nice play and a substantial hit by sophomore cornerback LaMareon James, Georgia Southern was able to convert on this third down. 

After this, ODU forced another third down and James would not be denied as he had the possession-sealing pass deflection forcing the Georgia Southern punt. Following this momentum-building play, ODU marched down the field to the Georgia Southern 9-yard line off two big receptions by Jennings, the longer 37 yards, and a first down run by redshirt sophomore running back Keshawn Wicks. This drive looked promising for a score until some miscommunication occurred in the red zone, the most glaring being a ball thrown into an area that two ODU receivers occupied and neither of them could come up with the reception with 4:18 remaining in the half. This miscue played back to bite ODU as the Eagles on their next drive found their way into the red zone. 

Sophomore QB Hayden Wolff follows through with his pass on the offensive drive. (Elena Harris)

This drive for the Eagles culminated as a roughing–the passer was mad, which left the Eagles with a 1st and 5 on the ODU five-yard line, practically point-blank range. Georgia Southern ended up scoring with less than 30 seconds remaining before the half, making the score 14-3. The possession in the time remaining for ODU started promisingly as LaMareon James had a huge return of 38 yards, putting the Monarchs around midfield with 0:09 remaining. ODU was not able to heave the ball downfield and went into the locker room down 14-3 at halftime.

The 20 minutes in between plays were quite eventful, featuring a halftime performance by the ODU Marching Band with the help of the Alumni Band, in addition to the highly-anticipated crowning of the ODU Homecoming court. 

The third quarter opened with ODU in possession, finishing the abbreviated drive at the end of the second quarter. This drive became fruitful as Wolff found one of his new favored targets, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Javon Harvey, for a first down and then his go-to Ali Jennings III twice, the second being a touchdown reception. This touchdown came with 13:34 remaining in the third and marked the sixth straight game in which Jennings had a touchdown reception. Unfortunately for the Monarchs, the Eagles responded to their next possession with a rushing touchdown of their own, bringing it to a two-score game at 21-10 with 9:46 remaining in the third quarter. The middle portions of the third quarter were somewhat uneventful, with the ODU defense making some quality defensive plays to keep a comeback within the realm of possibility.

Action for the Monarchs came again in the late portions of the third as Wolff found Jennings III in the red zone. Following this play, the Eagles’ defense was able to briefly lock down the Jennings-Wolff connection as two targets from Wolf came up unsuccessful. Freshman kicker Ethan Sanchez came out onto the field to drill a field goal with 2:27 remaining in the third, putting the score at 21-13. Following this, the ODU defense forced a Georgia Southern three and out, prompting a fake punt by the Eagles, which the Monarch special teams stomped all over, giving Wolff and crew possession to end the third on the Eagles’ ten-yard line. Misfortune struck ODU again as the reliable Jennings-Wolff connection came up short after the officiating crew deemed Jennings to not have gained possession in bounds on a touchdown pass. This prompted kicker Sanchez to march out and drill another field goal, making the score 21-16 through 45 minutes of play. 

Junior WR Ali Jennings III tries to haul in the touchdown reception in the back corner of the endzone. (Elena Harris)

The fourth quarter did not go as ODU had planned. Georgia Southern put the ball in the endzone again with 10 minutes remaining, making the score 28-16. The Monarchs offense was able to respond to this push with a touchdown of their own on a drive in which Wolff found Harvey again for a big reception and Watson continued to run the ball, culminating in a touchdown run with 5:19, bringing the score to 28-23 a one-score game. Following this, the ODU defense stopped the Eagles from scoring, but at the cost of time as Georgia Southern ate a sizable chunk of the clock. The ODU defense finally ended up stopping Georgia Southern with 0:32 remaining. The final offensive possession of the game for the Monarchs was unfortunate; Wolff was sacked, a purposefully spiked ball was ruled an incomplete pass, and a pass intended for Ali Jennings errantly caused a turnover on downs, sealing the game with a score of 28-23 in favor of Georgia Southern. 

Despite the loss, two Monarchs continued their stellar season on Saturday. Wide receiver Jennings’  nine receptions for 130 yards on the day brought him to the D-I leader in receiving yards (905) and tied for fourth in receiving TDs (8). Sophomore linebacker Jason Henderson also leads D-I in two statistical categories total tackles (111) as well as tackles per game (15.9). He has an over 20 tackle lead over the linebacker in second place in total tackles and averages 2.5 tackles per game as the second-place player in that statistical category as well. Henderson tallied 22 tackles on the day. 

When asked about the game, Head Coach Ricky Rahne commented, “We just didn’t have enough energy. We were doing our assignments but we just didn’t do it with passion and that’s on me. I talked about discipline throughout the week, self-discipline, and I think that metastasized itself into less passion, which obviously was not the message I was going for.”

The Monarchs football team will be back in action in Atlanta next Saturday as they take on Georgia State. Following this, ODU football will close the season with home games against Marshall on Nov.4 and a sold-out contest against JMU set for Nov. 12th.