South Alabama revs up in the second half, beating Old Dominion 27-20

After one of its weaker first halves of the season, South Alabama withdrew defensively and did enough offensively to earn a 27-20 win over Old Dominion at Hancock Whitney Stadium on Saturday.

The Jaguars beat the Monarchs 14-0 in the second half, holding them to just 99 yards of total offense. Carter Bradley threw two of his three touchdown passes after halftime, a 30-yarder against Jalen Wayne in the third quarter to level the score, and a 2-yarder against DJ Thomas-Jones with 6:40 left to defeat South Alabama ( 10-2 , 7-1 Sun Belt Conference) to stay on top.

“Definitely another great, responsive win,” said South Alabama coach Kane Wommack. “I think that’s what I’m most excited about. … These guys are working to set a profit expectation. We expect to win every game in South Alabama. That’s pretty awesome.

“…It wasn’t our best performance early on, especially on defense. We didn’t do particularly well. We got into a few bad situations offensively, but we were able to react. I thought we kicked their tails defensively in the second half.”

South Alabama got a big defensive stop with 1:46 left when Jamie Sheriff sacked ODU quarterback Hayden Wolff in fourth at the USA 41. The Jaguars then clinched a first place finish and were able to kneel the clock.

South Alabama now has 10 wins for the first time as an FBS program and the first time overall since the 2010 team — the second after the Jaguars started playing football — against a schedule of mostly Division II and NAIA programs with 10-0 won. The Jaguars still have an outside shot to win the Sun Belt Conference West Division, but Troy has to lose to Arkansas State later on Saturday.

“We built the thing in January,” said Bradley, a Toledo transfer. “After last year I could see they wanted it. … Incredible work (by coaches) to show us the vision of what they wanted to achieve this season. I think the guys really embraced that. We wanted to be one of the most physical teams in the country. And I feel like we prove that every Saturday.”

Old Dominion (3-9, 2-6) played inspired football for most of the day, especially early on. The Monarchs rushed for 282 yards and scored 20 points in the first half with two touchdown passes from Wolff and two field goals from Edgar Sanchez to go into the dressing room 20-13.

A big sequence ensued just before halftime when a 10-yard ODU touchdown pass from Wolff to Ahmarian Granger was canceled by replay because Granger had one foot on the end line when he caught the ball. The Jaguars’ defense held, stopping the Monarchs running back Blake Watson just short of the goal line in third and forcing an 18-yard field goal from Sanchez at halftime for a 20-13 ODU lead.

“It’s not over until the ball gets in the end zone,” said South Alabama linebacker Trey Kiser. “That’s our mindset when they run over us. It’s not over until the ball is in the end zone or put it through the posts. … If you play physically and play downhill, you can’t hesitate in the red area.”

South Alabama forced a punt on ODU’s first possession in the second half and then drove to equalize. With running backs La’Damian Webb and Braylon McReynolds doing much of the work, the Jaguars rushed for 83 yards in 12 games.

Bradley met Wayne in the end zone on the left touchline to tie the game at 4:50 in the third. The TD reception was Wayne’s ninth of the year, a program record in South Alabama.

Old Dominion bet on its next two holdings, with South Alabama taking over at 13:37 in their 31st place finish. Again, the Jaguars stayed mostly grounded behind Webb and Omni Wells, although Bradley climbed 19 yards — including a deft hurdle from an ODU defenseman — after the punt on the first play.

South Alabama converted twice in fourth and short, and Wells ran for 20 yards in third and ten from the 28. Three players later, Bradley Thomas-Jones hit in the left flat for the go-ahead touchdown.

“Having the ball running at the end of the game changed that program,” said Wommack, whose team rushed 208 yards in the game. “Being able to establish the run and finish games was the difference. Teams that can lead football find ways to win. And it’s out there with multiple backs. The offensive line also did a great job.”

However, Old Dominion had one more shot and quickly moved into South Alabama territory. A chop-block penalty nullified a 25-yard touchdown pass from Wolff to Isiah Page — the second Monarchs touchdown knocked down during the game — and a short pass to Donta Anthony set up the fourth and 13th of 31 before.

The sheriff chased a crawling Wolff, who threw the ball away just before it hit the ground. However, officials decided his forward drive had been halted, and the Jaguars took the downs.

“Every half, we come in and say, ‘Don’t give them another one,'” said Brock Higdon, South Alabama defensive end. “We did.”

Three runs from Webb resulted in a first down, and Bradley was able to kneel on the ball to time out the clock. Webb played for the first time since the first half of the Nov. 12 Texas State game, finishing for 74 yards on 18 carries.

Webb now has 1,015 yards this season, making him the second 1,000-yard rusher in South Alabama history. The junior college transfer, who missed last week’s win over Southern Miss with an ankle injury, is 42 yards shy of Tra Minter’s 2019 program record of 1,057 yards.

“It was really a game changer,” Webb said. “The coach said I could go and that was the best feeling. … It felt good to help the team as much as possible.”

Old Dominion scored a touchdown on his first possession of the game, with Wolff hitting Javon Harvey with a 26-yard drive at 12:34 in the first goal. South Alabama responded with Bradley’s 10-yard TD pass to Caullin Lacy 6:09 in the quarter.

Both teams responded with field goals—ODU’s Sanchez with a 33-yarder, South Alabama’s Diego Guajardo with a 23-yarder—to make it 10-10. Wolff connected with Watson on a 6-yard shovel pass, leaving 8:33 in the half to put the Monarchs 17-10 ahead.

Guajardo hit a 46-yard field goal at the 2:52 mark of the second quarter to cut the ODU’s lead to 17-13. That was where the score stood until Sanchez’s chipshot gave the Monarchs a seven-point lead at halftime.

“It was an early game (kick-off 11am) and we’ve had some close wins over the past few weeks,” said Wommack. “We really fought and fought our tails and we came out with it in the end. I’ve been telling the staff all week that this has to be our best game from an energetic point of view and from a passion point of view. We did that especially in the second half, especially when we started fighting in defence, how we started running the ball on offense.”

Bradley completed 17 of 29 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, raising his program single-season records for yards to 2,983 and touchdown passes to 25, beating Aleem Sunanon’s 91 in 2013 and Webb’s 84 this season.

Wolff completed 21 of 36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, while Watson had an excellent all-around day with 110 yards rushing on 18 carries and six team-best receptions for 88 yards. In the second half, however, the Monarchs were held to minus 2 rushing yards.

Should Troy beat Arkansas State on Saturday and win the Sun Belt West, South Alabama would not play until their bowl game. Postseason invites officially go out on December 4th, the day after the conference’s various championship games.