The new Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium was alive with Monarch pride as the Pirates of East Carolina rolled into Norfolk for the third meeting between the two teams, separated by just 123 miles.
The Monarchs came in at 1-2 after an 0-2 road trip versus Virginia Tech and UVA, both games which ODU held their own in, even leading the Cavs at halftime 17-0. The Pirates were 2-2 with wins over James Madison and Gardner-Webb, both teams seeking their first FBS win of the season.
ODU went down 17-3 at the half, due to big plays by ECU, a blocked punt returned for a score, and a controversial call on 3rd and goal from the two yard line when ODU quarterback Stone Smartt ran a QB dive up the middle, stuck the ball over the goal line and appeared to be in. However, the play was ruled a fumble.
The Monarchs came back to make it a 17-13 game after a Stone Smartt rushing score and a Nick Rice 39-yard field goal.
East Carolina would score again on a five-yard pass from quarterback Holton Ahlers to Anthony Watley to make it 24-13 with 3:39 left in the game. The Monarchs tried to come back and scored with 2:01 left on a Kesean Strong one-yard run, but ODU was out of timeouts and couldn’t stop the Pirates as they knelt the ball to run the clock out and hand ODU their first loss in their new stadium.
“Actually, my knee was down before I extended the ball, my knee was down but it’s on me, I shouldn’t have even risked the ball like that, it’s completely on me,” Smartt said about the fumble. “I believe I got the ball over but at the end it was ripped out.
“Bottom line, the football game came down to three plays that were the difference in the game,” coach Bobby Wilder said. “Number one was the blocked punt, number two was the 72-yard touchdown pass, and number three was the ruling that Stone (Smartt) fumbled the ball as he was going in to score. Take those three plays away, or just minimize the damage and we win the game by ten points but unfortunately those plays happened.”
“On the touchdown, I thought I watched the replay, they (officials) showed it two or three times, I thought he was across the line, the ball only has to break the plane of the white on the field side, it doesn’t have to cross the line, only break the plane. I thought it clearly did, I was standing with a line judge, he said “we are just waiting for confirmation coach,” I thought it was a touchdown, and there was enough video evidence.” Wilder commented.
Stone Smartt went over 200 yards passing, but threw two interceptions and fumbled three times as turnovers doomed the Monarchs.
“We kind of switched from UVA last week where we came out fast and couldn’t finish. In this game, we came out really slow and it hurt us,” Smartt said. “Trying to get back in the second half was too late.”
“If you just looked at this game without knowing the score, statically you would think we won the game, we had the edge in turnovers, dominated the time of possession and the plays, had the ball for 13 more minutes and ran 16 more plays than they (ECU) did. We were plus one in turnovers.”
From here, ODU will need to go 5-3 in conference play to be bowl eligible. Conference play will open next Saturday as Western Kentucky comes to Norfolk as the Monarchs have their first back-to-back home games of the season.
“We are ready...finally getting the chance to get this Conference USA rolling, we feel like we can really lock in on each other. The defense has been playing tremendous and we need to be able to assist them and get our stuff right for Western Kentucky,” Smartt exclaimed.
“It’s just another game,” linebacker Lawrence Garner said. “We gotta do what we gotta do, the goal is to win so we just have to prepare like any other team, it’s just more important because we are competing for a conference title.”
The mistakes on this team are fixable, but they will need to be fixed fast, it doesn’t help that the Monarchs were without OL Nick Saldiveri, RB Lala Davis, and WR Eric Kumah, all starters for Old Dominion, and all key pieces of the offensive game plan for Bobby Wilder’s squad.
“It’s certainly an impact when you lose three really good football players, especially Nick (Saldiveri) because we don’t have the depth at offensive line like at the other positions. We struggled to protect the quarterback, we struggled to run the ball tonight with that being said, I think Stone (Smartt) played a gutsy game,” Wilder remarked.
ODU QB Stone Smartt: 20-30, 203yds, 2 int. 22 car, 76yds, TD
ODU WR Hasaan Patterson: 4 rec, 41yds
ODU WR Kesean Strong: 4 rec, 33yds
293 total yards
Ints: Jordan Young (1), Marcus Haynes (1)
ECU QB Holton Ahlers: 8-21, 202yds, 2 TD, 2int, 7 car, 1yd.
ECU RB Demetrius Mauney: 10 car, 52yds
ECU WR Blake Proehl: 2 rec, 100yds, TD
Ints: Gerard Stringer (1), Ja’Quan McMillian (1)
309 total yards
Next Saturday will come quick for the Monarchs, but they have to be ready and end this three-game skid and get ready for Conference USA play. This is the only time this season ODU will have back-to-back home games.
ECU will have a quick turnaround from the win, as they will host Temple this Thursday in a nationally televised game on ESPN.