Get the Max With Minium: ODU Didn't Play Well Down the Stretch, Nor Did it Catch Any Breaks From the Refs, in Heartbreaking Loss to ECU

September 29, 2018
By ODU Athletics
ODU Athletics

By Harry Minium

Saturday’s 37-35 loss at East Carolina was a bitter pill for Old Dominion to swallow. And not just because ECU is the closest FBS school to ODU, or that the schools are recruiting rivals or that the loss dropped ODU to 1-4.

It was because in the final minutes, not only did the Monarchs miss numerous opportunities to put the Pirates away, they were on the wrong end of four close calls or no-calls by the officiating crew.

In case you’re a conspiracy theorist, it was a Conference USA officiating crew that called this game. ECU is a member of the American Athletic Conference.

Refs are human and make mistakes. And Rick Lovato, the former ODU longsnapper who won a Super Bowl ring with the Philadelphia Eagles, thought they made a ton of mistakes.

“ODU just got robbed . . . absolutely unbelievable,” he Tweeted minutes after the game.

Before we get to the blown plays, and blown calls, let me say this: ODU’s football team came ready to play, and that’s pretty admirable under the circumstances.

The Monarchs were coming off the biggest victory in school history, a 49-35 upset of then No. 13 Virginia Tech. Most sports talking heads call it one of the greatest upsets in college football history.

But there was no Tech hangover. The Monarchs played hard, if not always well, against an ECU team that crushed North Carolina, 41-19, just three weeks ago at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

They clearly were focused on beating ECU, and not celebrating the win over Tech.

Quarterback Blake LaRussa didn’t have the stats he had against the Hokies, but again played well. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

Problem was, ODU’s offensive line did not protect nearly as well as it did against Tech. He was sacked nine times for a total loss of 53 yards.

As I noted a few days ago, ODU faces a murderous schedule the next month and a half, beginning with a road trip to defending C-USA champion Florida Atlantic on Saturday.

FAU, by the way, lost at Middle Tennessee Saturday night, when the home team made a two-point conversion with 38 seconds left The stretch also includes home games with Marshall, Middle Tennessee and North Texas and a road date a Western Kentucky.

If they continue to play as hard as they did at ECU, they will upset some of those teams. Enough to go to a bowl? That would be a steep climb. ODU must now win five of its last seven to go to a bowl.

It’s clear, however, that the Tech game was no fluke. ODU has a good football team.

Back to the final minutes. I’m not a referee, but with just more than a minute left, I thought ODU defensive back Justice Davila picked off a pass that won the game for the Monarchs.

He hauled in the ball and dragged one foot in bounds on the ECU five. The line judge, who was closest to the play, and who had a clear view of Davila as he went down, called it an interception.

Good call, I thought.

But then came the side judge from 10 or 15 yards away who said he was bobbling the ball.

The ball moved after he brought it in, but replays showed he had it firmly clutched against his body as he went down. If the guys in the replay booth had looked at it with an unbiased point of view, I think they give Davila the INT.

But the rules didn’t allow the crew to look at it from a neutral standpoint. Because the ref ruled it incomplete, there had to be overwhelming evidence that he caught the ball.

It was too close a call for the evidence to be overwhelming.

Nor was that the only call, or non-call, that hurt ODU. Jonathan Duhart was clearly held on a third down pass with 2:15 left that went uncalled. Quarterback Blake LaRussa was grabbed by the face mask when he was sacked. Again, no flag. A pass interference call on ODU came on what appeared to be an uncatchable pass.

You can be sure coach Bobby Wilder will be sending film to the conference office in Dallas.

Although there was a cooling off period of about 15 minutes after the game, he was still steaming on the post-game radio show..

“I thought he intercepted the ball,” Wilder said. “It looked like Justice Davila won the game.

“In the booth, they didn’t see what I saw. In that situation, all you can ask your team is to make a play when you’re playing against a team that throws the ball for 300 yards. And he made a play. And apparently that crew didn’t see it that way.”

He added: “I’ve never been more sick to my stomach for a team as to what transpired in the fourth quarter.”

He also acknowledged that ODU had chances to put the game away and didn’t. And although ODU’s defense forced two turnovers, it is still giving up way too many yards.

Statistically, ECU dominated the game, outgaining ODU, 492-271. Offensively, ODU converted on third down just 3 of 16 times.

Even so, with 5:22 to play, Oshane Ximines blocked an extra point that allowed ODU to hold onto a precarious, 35-34 lead.

ODU had two more possessions where all it needed to do was get a couple of first downs and run out the clock. The Monarchs gained a total of one yard on both possessions.

ECU’s Jake Verity made a 38-yard field goal that sailed left, but was a yard or so inside the uprights, with 46 seconds left. The ball flew inches past Ximines’ left hand.

Then, when ODU was desperately trying to get in position to kick a game-winning field goal of its own, Jeremy Cox caught a pass and went out of bounds, but a player apparently called a timeout, ODU’s last.

The game ended with two LaRussa sacks, the final one, in which he was penalized for intentional grounding.

Duhart hit the nail on the head when he said “down the stretch, we just couldn’t put it together.”

Generally, Wilder’s teams have a knack for winning close games. Not so this season. This is the third of four close games that the Monarchs lost. They led FIU, 17-0, before losing 28-0. They missed three conversion attempts in a 28-25 loss at Charlotte.

Football is a game of inches. And the Monarchs are half a dozen or plays away from a 4-1 record.

The good news for ODU fans is that this team, the won that beat Tech and came oh-so-close to beating ECU, would not have lost those earlier games. And the 52-10 loss to Liberty would have been much closer. They will upset some teams in the coming weeks. 

Tim Ward, a senior from Hope Mills, N.C., said ODU isn’t disheartened and will head to FAU with confidence.

“We think we can line up against anyone in the country and win,” he said.

 “We’re disappointed with the loss,” LaRussa added. “But our confidence hasn’t been shaken at all.

“We know we’re a good football team.”

 

Email Minium: hminium@odu.edu

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