CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - This was not a game that Old Dominion was expected to win, nor a game which was expected to be competitive. But the Monarchs played with heart and went toe-to-toe with the University of Virginia physically. And for much of the game, the Monarchs appeared to be the better team.
But ODU committed critical mistakes, and simply could not move the ball in the second half, as the Cavaliers rallied from a 17-0 deficit to down the Monarchs, 28-17, in a game nationally televised on ESPN2.
The score was in itself a bit of an upset. ODU was a four-touchdown underdog and for much of the game, appeared to be on the way to its second victory in two years over a ranked in-state ACC opponent. ODU stunned then 13th-ranked Virginia Tech, 49-35, last September.
In both games, ESPN gave the Monarchs a 1.8 percent chance of winning.
ODU (1-2) led 17-7 Saturday night at the half, largely because of its stalwart defense and Stone Smartt’s accurate throwing arm. However, U.Va. opened the second half by blitzing ODU on every down and Monarchs simply had no answer.
"We simply could not block them in the third an fourth quarter," coach Bobby Wilder said.
It was the second loss to an in-state ACC team on the road, and in both games, it was competitive late in the fourth quarter. ODU lost at Virginia Tech, 31-17, two weeks ago.
"Our players are extremely disappointed," Wilder said. "We were up 17-0 on the road against a top 21 team team. We were a four-touchdown underdog.
"They feel like they should have won the game.
"There’s a lot of disappointment in the locker room. But we've got to go grown and learn from it. We’re a young team. We have 24 new players and 14 new starters.
"I feel really good about this football team right now. I'm just disappointed we didn’t get one of these two games."
ODU coach Bobby Wilder says Keion White was the best player on the field for either team.
The game’s key play came five minutes into the third quarter. Smartt was being rushed out of the pocket and tossed an ill-thrown pass directly into the arms of linebacker Zane Zandler, who returned it 22 yards for a touchdown. That trimmed ODU’s lead to 17-14.
As ODU’s offense was being stymied, so was Virginia’s. The Cavs were held on downs on their first two possessions and Keion White, a tight end turned bandit, blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt on the third.
"I felt like he was the best player on the field, for either team," Wilder said of White, who had six tackles, including a sack and 3 1/1 tackles for a loss. Early in the third quarter, U.Va. began blocking him with two players, to little avail.
U.Va. finally took its first lead after ODU failed to make a first down on fourth down and short at its own 29.
The Cavs rolled 29 yards to for a TD, with Wayne Taulapapa rolling into the end zone for a 7-yard TD rush.
U.Va. (4-0) then put the game virtually out of reach with 7:33 to play on a 25-yard TD pass from Bryce Perkins to Joe Reed.
The Monarchs stunned a Scott Stadium crowd of 44,573 in the first quarter by totally dominating play, offensively and defensively.
ODU's Blake Watson returned the opening kickoff 90 yards to the U.Va. 4, but that was negated by a holding penalty. Undaunted, the Monarchs drove 74 yards in 7:22 and took an early 3-0 lead on a 21-yard Nick Rice field goal.
The defense then held the Cavs on downs and ODU’s offense marched 48 yards in 5 plays with Smartt rushing 10 yards for the touchdown. The Monarchs led, 10-0, heading in the second quarter.
In spite of throwing a critical second half interception, Stone Smartt continues to impress as ODU's quarterback.
After the defense held U.Va. on downs again, the Monarchs drove 89 yards in nine plays, with Smartt finding Matt Geiger for a 47-yard touchdown pass.
Although Smartt threw a good pass, this was Geiger’s TD, as he broke a tackle and juked some defenders and strolled into the end zone making it 17-0 ODU with 10:40 left.
But as was the case in ODU’s loss at Virginia Tech two weeks ago, poor tackling on the ensuing kick finally gave the Cavaliers some life. Reed returned the kickoff 57 yards to the ODU 33, and the Cavaliers score quickly, with Perkins rolling out to pass, and then eluding three tackles for a 8-yard TD run with 7 minutes left.
It was U.Va.’s only offensive touchdown of the first three quarters.
ODU's defense not only held the Cavaliers to three touchdowns, the Monarchs limited the Cavs to 244 yards and Perkins to 175 yards passing and 35 rushing yards. That's the least total yards ODU has allowed against a Power 5 school.
ODU next plays Saturday night against East Carolina at 6 p.m. at Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium.
Notes: Lawrence Garner, Isaac Weaver, Tony Barnett and Derek Wilder were game captains … Derek Wilder started his first career game at defensive end … Nigel Fitzgerald and Darrell Brown made their first career starts, both starting at wide receiver … Cornerback Tobias Moss started his first career game at ODU … He started last year at South Alabama … Stone Smartt rushed for his fourth touchdown of the season, to give ODU a 10-0 first quarter lead … Stone Smartt threw his first career touchdown pass to Matt Geiger, who had his first career touchdown reception … It is the second time in program history ODU led a Power-five school at halftime. ODU led NC State 21-18 at halftime in 2014 … Matt Geiger’s 47 yard touchdown catch was ODU’s longest play so far this season …