The mission couldn’t have been clearer for Old Dominion as Saturday afternoon turned to evening: Get to the end zone and get a stop.
It turned out one without the other was nothing short of useless.
Brennan Armstrong passed for 284 yards and Branden Farrell kicked a 26-yard game-winning field goal as time expired in Virginia’s kooky 16-14 win over the Monarchs at Scott Stadium.
In the wildest of endings, the announced crowd of 40,556 fell to a hush when ODU quarterback Hayden Wolff led a frenetic 11-play, 80-yard drive to give the Monarchs (1-2) a 14-13 lead — their first of the game — on an 18-yard strike to tight end Zack Kuntz with 1:01 to go.
But Armstrong, set up by a nice return on the ensuing kickoff, marched 56 yards in six breakneck plays to put Farrell, improbably, in position to win it.
“This one hurts,” said Wolff, who passed for 235 yards and two touchdowns. “We fought till the end on offense and defense. The defense kept us in the game, the whole game. We wouldn’t have had the opportunities we had if it wasn’t for them.”
The Cavaliers (2-1) piled up 513 total yards to ODU’s 324, but the visitors’ defense rarely broke.
Teams that hold opponents to 16 points usually expect to win.
“Ultimately, we didn’t score enough points on offense,” Monarchs coach Ricky Rahne said. “And then at the end of the game on defense, their veteran quarterback made some plays and got them in a position to score.
“We’ve got to be able to finish drives. That’s the bottom line. And we’ve got be able to string together consistent first downs.”
Ali Jennings caught seven passes for 97 yards and a touchdown for ODU, which lost despite recovering three U.Va. fumbles.
Keytaon Thompson caught nine passes for 118 yards for U.Va., which converted 7 of 16 on third down.
Monarchs safety R’Tarriun Johnson, who finished with eight tackles, echoed his quarterback.
“For me, it definitely hurts being on defense because we played spectacular defense all game,” Johnson said. “That last drive, it just really hurt because our offense gave us a chance to win, and for us not to get that stop and bring it home, it really hurts.”
Farrell kicked a 30-yard field goal to extend U.Va’s tenuous lead to 13-7 with 8½ minutes left in the game. The Cavaliers converted a key fourth-and-1 to extend the drive inside ODU’s 25.
Trailing 10-0, the Monarchs recovered an Armstrong fumble with less than a minute to go in the first half. Wolff’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Jennings pulled ODU to within 10-7 with 19 seconds to go.
The drive was nearly derailed by a personal foul two plays earlier, but Wolff found his top target near the left pylon.
The Cavaliers squandered a golden opportunity when, late in the second quarter, they fumbled the ball away inside the ODU 5.
U.Va. went ahead 10-0 on Farrell’s 26-yard field goal with 10:23 to go in the first half.
The Cavaliers took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Mike Hollins with 3:13 left in the first quarter. The seven-play drive began when U.Va. stopped the Monarchs on fourth-and-2 at the Cavaliers’ 23.
U.Va. converted three third downs on its opening possession, but had to punt from near midfield when a third-down pass was dropped.
Ultimately, though, the offense did just enough.
“Our guys played hard,” said Cavaliers defensive coordinator John Rudzinski. “And shoot, kudos to the offense. They bailed us out.”
For stretches, ODU wasn’t doing itself any favors.
A fourth-and-1 near midfield to open the second quarter turned into a fourth-and 6 and a punt when a Monarchs player moved before the snap.
A U.Va. punt from its own end zone was recovered by the Cavaliers at ODU’s 49 after it bounced off a Monarchs player.
Moments later, what would’ve been an incomplete Armstrong pass on third-and-long became a first down when ODU was flagged for roughing, which led to Farrell’s 26-yarder.
But there were bright spots. A week after being held to 15 rushing yards in a 39-21 loss at East Carolina, the Monarchs rushed for 89.
When the stadium was at its loudest and the pressure reached its apex late in the game, Wolff and his stable of offensive weapons showed that they could rise to the occasion.
“He stayed with it in terms of just being confident in his ability, being confident in his guys’ ability,” Rahne said of Wolff. “He gave our guys chances to make plays. And we made them on that final drive. We’ve got to make more of them before that.”
Arkansas State visits the Monarchs on Saturday for the Sun Belt opener.
David Hall, firstname.lastname@example.org