No one wants to admit it, but Old Dominion University has had Virginia Tech’s number in the two straight games. In 2022 and 2018, the Norfolk-based school picked up wins over the big brother across the state in Blacksburg.
Last season, Blake Watson scored on a one-yard run with 33 seconds to play and Old Dominion beat Virginia Tech 20-17. VT back Keshawn King ran for 111 yards and caught a touchdown pass from transfer quarterback Grant Wells for the Hokies. Wells also ran for a score, but threw two first-half interceptions, and then one to set up the decisive drive.
The Hokies were driving and trying to put the game away when Wells’ pass from ODU’s 40 bounced off of Jalen Holston to the Monarchs’ Ryan Henry. A 15-yard penalty against ODU moved the ball back to their 26 with 2:58 left, but a long completion by Hayden Wolff and then a defensive pass interference call near the goal line on Dorian Strong set the Monarchs up at the 1-yard line. Watson needed two tries to make it but tumbled in with 33 seconds left.
The 2018 win was a little more surprisingly in a night that Tech running back Steven Peoples had a career-best rushing performance.
The Hokies struggled for much of the afternoon against in-state foe Old Dominion, and the No. 13 Hokies fell 49-35 to the Monarchs in a non-conference game in Norfolk.
With the loss, Virginia Tech fell to 2-1 overall. ODU moved to 1-3.
Peoples rushed for 156 yards on 20 carries and scored on runs of 87 yards and 1 yard. Quarterback Josh Jackson threw two touchdown passes.
But the Hokies struggled against ODU’s offense, led by backup quarterback Blake LaRussa. The 5-foot-11 LaRussa completed 30 of 49 for 495 yards and threw touchdown passes of 14, 4, 25 and 29 yards. He also rushed for a touchdown on a day in which ODU’s offense finished with 632 yards.
The Hokies led 28-21 after a 72-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Damon Hazelton with 32 seconds left in the third quarter, but ODU scored on its next two possessions, taking a 35-28 lead on a 15-yard Jeremy Cox touchdown run with 9:57 to go – its first lead of the game.
Things got worse for Tech, as Jackson went down with a lower leg injury on the first play of the ensuing drive. Backup quarterback Ryan Willis led the Hokies on a 75-yard march that ended with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Willis to tight end Chris Cunningham with 7:15 remaining, tying the game at 35.
But the Hokies simply had no answer for ODU. LaRussa polished off a 75-yard drive with a beautiful 29-yard fade pattern to Jonathan Duhart for a touchdown with 5:11 left that was the game winner. Jeremy Cox’s 40-yard touchdown run with 1:34 remaining sealed the win.
Just like Superman even Virginia Tech has a soft spot and maybe, ODU has found Hokies’ Kryptonite.
But in the preseason and summer, things have not been all hunky-dory in Norfolk.
First, ODU officially joined the Sun Belt. Then their offensive coordinator left suddenly over the summer and a new one was named, thus causing a lot of transition in the offense. Oh and did we say, the team lost starting QB Hayden Wolff to Western Michigan and his backup Brandon Clark retired from football.
Then the shopping continued as other schools starting picking players from head coach Rick Rahne’s squad. ODU did manage to bring a couple of their own transfers into the foe, but they will be untested and have questions surrounding them.
At the QB1 position, Grant Wilson, a junior transfer from Fordham who has experience in first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Decker’s up-tempo offense, will start for ODU. It willl be the first in the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Wilson’s college career after he spent two seasons as a backup at Fordham. He is an Arlington, Virginia native who won the job after a three-man battle with sophomore Jack Shields and true freshman Colton Joshston.
Wilson saw limited action as the backup in 2021 and 2022. He was a two-time District 6A Offensive Player of the Year at Yorktown High School, where he threw for more than 2,600 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior.
But he will be without the team’s favorite target. Coach Brent Pry slid in and picked ODU’s top receiver in Ali Jennings, who led that team with 54 receptions, 959 yards and nine touchdowns.
Jennings was third in the country with 106.6 yards per game and had five, 100-yard receiving games. In ODU’s win over Tech last season, he caught five passes for 122 yards.
Otherwise beside the win over Tech, last season is one Rahne would simply like to forget.
The 2021 team was one of the surprises of the season getting to six wins and a bowl game – winning five straight after a 1-6 start, but the 2022 team basically did the reverse, starting out 3-3 before losing six straight in the new and improved Sun Belt.
ODU’s offensive line struggled to keep defenses out-of-the-backfield as the running game only averaged 92 yards a game. Keshawn Wicks was the team’s second-leading back with just 125 yards and a score for a small but quick group.
The other side of the ball also struggled, finishing 117th in the nation, losing Alonzo Ford to Penn State and Chazz Wallace to Colorado. ODU did gain 5-1, 285-pound Jahill Taylor from UNC.
Look for linebacker Jason Henderson to be the leading tackler this season for the Monarchs.
ODU starts its real first season as a member of the Sun Belt Conference, which includes games against the likes of James Madison, Marshall, Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State and Georgia Southern.