Football Falls in the finals in South Alabama, Aug. 27-20

By Harry Minium

MOBILE, Ala. – You can beat the Old Dominion football team for their record, but you can’t beat the Monarchs for their heart or their determination to play hard to the finals.

The Monarchs led South Alabama for a long time before losing to a rally by the Jags in their final game of the season, losing 27-20.

The season started well for ODU (3-9 overall, 2-6 Sun Belt), who upset Virginia Tech (20-17) in their opener and then defeated Coastal Carolina (49-21) in a nationally televised road game.

However, the Monarchs went into a tailspin, and despite being competitive in most of their last six games, they lost all of them.

Injuries played a big part in the downswing. The Monarchs lost their two offensive playmakers, tight end Zack Kuntz and wide receiver Ali Jennings III, earlier this season. Offensive tackle Nick Saldiveriwhose next game will be February 4 in South Alabama at Reese’s Senior Bowl also did not play.

Nevertheless, the outcome of this game was only certain in the last few seconds.

“We will never give up no matter what we will always fight,” said quarterback Hayden Wolffwho completed 21 of 36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s tough, it hurts, not going out with a win for our seniors, the guys that are going,” added Wolff. “We were put in the right place by our coaches in the first half and went out there and were executed.

“We didn’t execute in the second half. We made so many mistakes, things we can control.”

Every time the Monarchs got their offense going, they stumbled, taking penalties or executing poorly. A potential game penalty was wiped off the scoreboard by a chopping block.

head coach Ricky Rahne was bleak by the end of the game. When asked how hard his team had worked, he shrugged, citing ODU President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., and Dr. Wood Selig, Monarch’s athletic director.

“Dr. Hemhill and Dr. Selig pay me to go out and win games,” he said. “You don’t pay me for deadly victories. We have to find a way to win these tight games. We’ve been in most of these games and just couldn’t find a way to finish them. And that’s my job.”

Coastal Carolina won the Sun Belt East and will play either South Alabama (10-2, 7-1) or Troy for the Sun Belt title next Saturday.

The Monarchs put in some notable individual performances.

Blake Watsonthe 5-foot-9, 192-pound junior running back from Queens, New York broke the 100-yard rushing mark for the ninth time in his career and rushed for 198 yards overall.

Meanwhile linebacker Jason Henderson collected 18 tackles in one of the bravest performances in ODU football history. Henderson was injured and carried off the field in Appalachian State last week. Henderson played with obvious pain and a tightly taped leg. He had a chance to set the FBS record for most tackles in a season, but he only had two tackles at App State before retiring, falling short of the 25 he needed on Saturday.

Texas Tech’s Lawrence Fluegence set the record of 193 in 2002. Henderson finished with 186 and is third on the tackle list for a season.

ODU was leading 20:13 at half-time and was mainly in the game until the final minutes because of the Monarch defence.

However, the Monarch offense failed to score on their first three possessions in the second half, and the Jags scored twice to forge a 27-20 lead.

South Alabama ran nearly seven minutes behind the clock on its final TD drive, which went 69 yards and was capped by a 2-yard pass from quarterback Carter Bradley to DJ Thomas Jones with 6:40 left.

ODU then threatened to equalize and appeared to do so for brief seconds when Wolff found Isia Paige for a 25-yard touchdown.

However, the result was wiped off the board by a chop block penalty. Three games later, Wolff was fired, ending ODU’s hopes of a comeback.

ODU led for most of the first half, thanks in large part to Watson, who rushed 14 times for 91 yards and caught five passes for 79 more.

ODU opened the game with an impressive 75-yard touchdown drive that lasted just over two minutes. Watson pulled in a 36-yard pass to put ODU in South Alabama territory and then Wolff scored Javon Harvey for the 26-yard touchdown.

South Alabama responded with a 75-yard TD drive that was capped by Carter Bradley’s 10-yard touchdown pass to the third and Caullin Lacy’s goal.

Watson sped 46 yards on three carries on his next drive, which stalled inside the red zone. Ethan Sanchez He then kicked a 33-yard field goal to give ODU a 10-7 lead.

After South Alabama’s Diego Guajardo made the 10-all score early in the second quarter, Watson combined 54 rushing and receiving yards in another 75-yard TD drive from ODU, which Watson parried with a 6-yard reception completed.

South Alabama narrowed the lead to 17-13 with a 46-yard field goal from Guajardo with 2:52 in the game.

The Jags called timeouts after two ODU 1-yard gains. But it backfired in the third game when Wolff lofted a 42-yard pass to the wide receiver Levi Wentz at South Alabama 45.

ODU appeared to score on a 10-yard pass from Wolff to the freshman Ahmarian Granger at the end of the end zone, but it was erased from the scoreboard after replay officials ruled that Granger was out of bounds.

Watson then caught an 8-yard pass to the 2 where ODU scored a first and a hit. Three plays later, ODU was still in twos with just 14 seconds and no timeouts.

The field-goal unit quickly ran onto the field, and with a second remaining, the ball was snapped and Sanchez launched an 18-yard field goal to make it 20-13 at halftime.

“We left too many moves on the field,” said Rahne. “We didn’t tackle as well as before. We had some big penalties. And that made the difference in the game.”

Rahne said of Henderson’s performance, “He got carted off the field in the last game and had 18 tackles and played as hard as he did. He’s shown all year how tough he is.”

Notes: Proper tackle Santana Saunders made his first start of the season… Javon Harvey caught his fourth touchdown of the year with a 26-yard snag in the first quarter… Blake Watson Intercepted his second touchdown pass of the season on a six-yard shovel pass Hayden Wolff … For the eighth time this season Hayden Wolff thrown for two or more touchdowns… Levi Wentz The 42-yard catch in the second quarter was the first of his career… Ahmarian Granger caught a career high with five passes for 71 yards… Blake Watson set the ODU season record for receptions by a running back. He caught six passes and had 37 grabs that year…Watson hit his third 100-yard rushing game of the year and ninth of his career… Jason Henderson took his 11thth Double-digit tackle game of the season…Henderson finished the day with 18 tackles and 186 on the season. His 186 tackles is the third most in a single season in FBS history.