Minium: ODU's Miraculous Comeback Victory over WKU is a Credit to the Team's Grit and Determination
By ODU Athletics
It will take an absolutely miraculous finish from Old Dominion for the Monarchs to qualify for a bowl bid. They are 2-6 and must win their last four to go to postseason play.
But even if the road to a bowl game remains long and marked with pitfalls, ODU pulled off a miracle Saturday night in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that will give the Monarchs a huge boost of momentum as they prepare for this week’s homecoming game against Middle Tennessee.
Western Kentucky appeared to have won the game with an 80-yard touchdown drive capped off by a Gino Appleberry run with 1:37 to play that gave the Hilltppers a 34-27 lead.
But ODU responded quickly, driving 80 yard and scoring with nine seconds to go when Blake LaRussa hit Travis Fulgham on a 6-yard pass. The game appeared certain to go into overtime.
In what everyone in the stadium thought was the last play of the game, ODU’s Pat Toal was called for roughing WKU quarterback Davis Shanley. There was no time on the clock, but since there was a penalty on the defense, refs ruled there would be one more untimed play.
Coach Bobby Wilder's Monarchs defeated Western Kentucky for the first time Saturday night.
Actually, there would be three.
That moved the ball to the 40, from where WKU’s Alex Rinella missed a 57-yard field goal.
Once again, ODU was called for a penalty, for having 12 men on the field, allowing Rinella to line up from the 52 and try another field goal.
Here’s where the drama really began: the kick was short, and caught by Isaiah Harper, the speedy senior from Chesapeake’s Grassfield High, in the end zone.
He broke free at the 50 and appeared to be headed for a game-winning touchdown when he barely stepped out of bounds at the 15.
Headed to overtime, right?
Nope. WKU was called for a facemask. That put the ball at the ODU 8 and because there was a penalty, the refs said ODU had one more play.
Nick Rice then lined up ad kicked a 26-yard field goal.
Nick Rice celebrates the game-winning field goal with his teammates.
After getting off to a slow start, Rice has now kicked six field goals in a row.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Rice said on the ODU radio network. “We knew all season we were something special and we had a lot go wrong.
“But here we are, we’re going to make our run.”
When I attended practice last week, I was surprised to hear the Monarch still talking about a bowl game. In spite of losing six of their first seven games, practices have remained upbeat and rigorous. More talented teams have quit under similar circumstances.
“We’ve played hard in every game,” LaRussa said. “We’ve not given up and we’re not going to give up.
“We know we can’t lose any more. We’ve got to win them all.”
The good news for ODU is that three of their final four games are at home. After Middle Tennessee, ODU hosts North Texas and VMI and then travels to Rice.
ODU will be the underdog in its next two games, but that’s a position the Monarchs are accustomed to. They’ve been underdogs most of a season in which they’ve dropped narrow losses to Charlotte, FIU and East Carolina.
After an 0-3 start, ODU won its first game over a Power 5 school when the Monarchs stunned No. 13 Virginia Tech, 49-35, at home.
Saturday’s victory was also another first for ODU, although not quite on the same level as the victory over the Hokies. Western Kentucky was 4-0 against ODU prior to Saturday.
Blake LaRussa completed 21 of 32 passes for 327 yards and a touchdown at WKU.
ODU suffered a heartbreaking loss in 2014 when ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke led ODU on a long drive that appeared destined to push the Monarchs into the lead midway through the fourth quarter.
He saw Zach Pascal open in the corner of the end zone. But as he was attempting to heave the ball in Pascal’s direction, it slipped out of his hand, went straight up I the air, and was returned 94 yards for a WKU touchdown.
WKU simply manhandled ODU in 2015 and 2016.
Then last season, the Monarchs led and appeared to be in control of the game going in the fourth quarter, holding a 31-21 lead, before the Hilltoppers outscored ODU, 14-0, in the final period to claim a 35-31 victory.
Finally, on a cold Saturday night in Bowling Green, Ky., fate turned ODU’s way.
Regardless of whether ODU goes to a bowl or not, the team’s no-quit attitude remains something to admire. This isn’t the prettiest team in school history, but it is among the grittiest.