MIAMI, Florida — Old Dominion University’s football team may have gotten a glimpse of its future Saturday afternoon in South Florida.
In a surprise move, coach Bobby Wilder started true freshman quarterback Hayden Wolff against Florida International. And while Wolff played well for the first game of his college career, it was not enough to break ODU’s losing streak.
FIU held on to defeat ODU, 24-17, on a sultry afternoon at Riccardo Silva Stadium. ODU (1-8 overall, 0-5 Conference USA) has lost eight in a row, but was in this game until the final minute.
Junior college transfers Stone Smartt and Messiah deWeaver started at quarterback in ODU’s first eight games, but neither had been particularly effective. Since NCAA rules allow player to redshirt if he has played up to four games, Wilder decided to give Wolff a chance in the first of ODU’s last four.
Wolff is a 3-star recruit from Venice, Fla. – about three hours west of Miami – who turned down offers from a number of high-profile schools, including Kentucky, to come to ODU.
Wolff threw the ball well but as you would expect from a freshman, did not play a perfect game. Also, with ODU’s offensive line missing Isaac Weaver an Andrew Lawson, Wolff was often under intense pressure. He completed 19 of 35 passes for 169 yards, with one interception.
ODU was also playing without defensive tackles Juwan Ross, a Daytona Beach, Fla., native, and Jeremy Meiser and return specialist Blake Watson, all out with injuries.
FIU (5-4, 4-3) took a big step forward toward becoming bowl eligible. The Panthers need to win one of their last three games to become bowl eligible. If they win two, they will be guaranteed a bowl big.
The game was close most of the way.
ODU trailed FIU, 9-7, at the half in a game in which the Monarch defense was dominant. But then FIU quarterback James Morgan, who had been pretty much contained by ODU’s defense, found Shemar Thornton on a 54-yard pass that combined with a face mask penalty, gave FIU a first down at the Monarch 13.
On the next play, Napolean Maxwell rushed 13 yards for the touchdown that put FIU ahead, 16-7, with 6:54 left in the third quarter. That made it a two-score game.
ODU took advantage of good field position set up by their defense to drive from the 50 to the FIU 5. But on fourth down, a Wolff pass was just beyond the reach of Steven Williams Jr. Nick Rice, a native of St. Petersburg, Fla., then drilled a 22-yard field goal to narrow the lead to 16-10.
However, FIU then drove 65 yards for a touchdown that gave the Panthers the cushion they needed.
Morgan ran a quarterback sneak from the 1 for the touchdown. The Panthers than got a two-point conversion when wide receiver Tony Gaiter IV tossed a left-handed pass to tight end Sterling Potter to give FIU a 24-10 lead and control of the game.
As has been characteristic of ODU this season, the Monarchs did not quit. Instead, they needed just four plays to drive 76 yards for a touchdown. LaLa Davis got things going with a 31-yard run, followed by two passes from Wolff to Nigel Fitzgerald. Davis then ran ten yards for the touchdown, which narrowed the lead to 24-17 with 2:54 left.
ODU's defense then held on downs, and ODU got the ball back at its 9 with 1:09 left. But on second down, Olin Cushion the third intercepted to clinch the victory. ODU took advantage of an early turnover to take a 7-0 lead.
Geronda Hall intercepted an FIU pass at the 22 and returned it 18 yards to the 4, where ODU had a first and goal. Robert Washington was hit and pushed through FIU defenders for the 4-yard TD six minutes into the first quarter.
The rest of the half was a defensive struggle in which Monarchs surrendered more yards (190) than they gained (56), but the defense held strong on three drives to force field goals from Jose Borregales. FIU, 9-7, at the half.
Borregales, however, missed from 50 yards late in the second quarter and again from 42 yards in the third quarter and that helped keep ODU within striking distance until the fourth quarter.