A historic day on the campus of Old Dominion University saw the Monarchs welcome Norfolk State to the opening of the new Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium. ODU won, but it was close.
As the fans piled into the new stadium, oohing and ahhing at what was built in just nine months on the former site of Foreman Field, the Norfolk State Spartans and Old Dominion Monarchs were both looking to start their season on a high.
Norfolk State made it close, going up 21-17 late, but key plays from new players gave the Monarchs the win.
JUCO transfer quarterback Stone Smartt was efficient, completing 17 of his 23 passes for 158 yards and an interception in the fourth quarter, which then led to a Norfolk State touchdown to take a 21-17 lead over the Monarchs. Smartt also ran for 56 yards and a touchdown. Steven Williams also got under center once for ODU, throwing an interception that led to points for NSU.
Lala Davis was the Monarchs’ leading rusher, gaining 68 yards and scoring a TD while running back Kesean Strong made ODU history as the first player to score in the new Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium, an 11-yard score in the first quarter. Strong finished with 29 yards rushing and 11 receiving yards.
“Seeing them, seeing Lance (Boykin), Lawrence (Garner) and the type of pressure they bring in practice made it really easy for this game to develop with our offensive flow,” Smartt said after seeing his first opposing defense at the FBS level. “At no point in the game were we nervous, we were on top of our stuff.”
“I think we definitely could have played better as a whole,” Smartt remarked. “There were a couple of lows in the game, but for the first game I thought we did good.”
With ODU up 24-21 late, NSU had the ball back, but Lance Boykin put a stop to that with a game-sealing interception on the Spartans’ 46-yard line to clinch the first win of the season.
“The main thing was never losing composure,” Boykin said. “We could have got down on ourselves when they (NSU) went down and scored and took the lead but we kept our heads held high and we always knew we were going to come away with the win at the end of the day.”
After an 0-3 start in 2018, ODU got their first win in the home upset of Virginia Tech, this win comes a full month earlier than the first win of 2018 did.
“Let me just start off by saying I’m really excited to get the win tonight,” head coach Bobby Wilder said. “We didn’t get a win last year until the fourth game against Virginia Tech, so to start off the season 1-0 (is encouraging)”
“I told the players in the locker room, they were disappointed about the performance but I had to remind them that we won a football game tonight and we are 1-0. I also talked to the players about (how) I’ve been coaching for 32 years and the most improvement you see in your football team is from week one to week two. With five new starters on offense, three on the offensive line and five new starters on defense I anticipated there would be some (rough) moments tonight,” Wilder exclaimed.
ODU forced two turnovers from NSU QB Juwan Carter, the game-sealing interception from Lance Boykin, and another interception by Kaleb Ford-Dement in the first half that led to a missed field goal.
Norfolk State started to turn the momentum with a touchdown catch by Da’Kendall James on a 57-yard pass from Carter.
“That’s when I felt a momentum shift,” Wilder said. “Norfolk State had 100 yards of offense in the first half and 60 of them came on one play when we had a missed assignment, our mike linebacker just missed his assignment and they hit a huge play and got back into the game at 14-6. With a young team with a lot of new starters you are going to have a lot of those momentum plays but other than that one play in the first half I thought our defense was outstanding.”
After the win, the Monarchs will prepare to travel to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech on Saturday, a game ripe with story lines from Tech trying to avenge last year’s upset, to players like Chris Cunningham and Eric Kumah going to face their old team.