Call it the “ODUpset”, call it the “Upset by the Bay”, or “Black Saturday” but no matter what you call it, ODU fans will never forget where they were the day Virginia Tech marched into Foreman Field and got shocked by the Monarchs of Old Dominion.
For me, it was the first college football game I had ever covered, the dream of a little kid from Norfolk, Virginia, who grew up idolizing great Hokies like Michael Vick, Deangelo Hall, and of course Frank Beamer, who seemed larger than life to me growing up. I made my way to Foreman Field that day around 1 pm for the 3:30 kickoff, I wanted to really take in everything going on, and get my camera ready.
The following is a collection of memories from that day, September 22nd, 2018 and what it meant to coaches, fans, and players.
On my way to the game, my mom told me “you know it’s going to be a blowout, there is no way Tech loses to ODU,” and she was just saying what most others thought.
ESPN had the Monarchs as 28.5 point underdogs.
Steven Williams started for ODU, but was soon replaced with Blake LaRussa. LaRussa ended up leading what is one of the great upsets in NCAA history when the Monarchs shocked the world, beating the Hokies 49-35 in front of around 20,000 fans.
Led by Bobby Wilder, the only coach the program has ever known, the Monarchs were 0-3 despite having future NFL players defensive end Oshane Ximines and wide receivers Jonathan Duhart and Travis Fulgham on the roster.
What really makes this game stand out isn’t how improbable it was, but the effect it has had on fans, players, and coaches around the Old Dominion program.
ODU brought football back in 2009, hiring Wilder and aiming to bring a quality product to Hampton Roads. Many people thought that ODU would field a successful program but no one saw the Monarchs upsetting a Power 5 program or winning a bowl game (Bahamas Bowl) so early in the program’s history.
The upset over Virginia Tech was even more surprising when you consider that the Hokies rocked ODU and then 17-year old QB Steven Williams the year before in Blacksburg 38-0.
“It started the Sunday before when we met as a team, we weren’t feeling good about ourselves,” Wilder said. “We hadn’t put anything together yet in the first three games and I unveiled to the team what we called ‘The anatomy of an upset and what needed to happen’ so we started with that and we gained a little confidence that we had a plan.”
“I really felt Saturday at our team meeting at the hotel before we left to go to the stadium there was a good feeling within the team that if we could just stay close and get the crowd involved that we would have an opportunity to win and we went in with the mindset that we had everything to gain and nothing to lose,”Wilder exclaimed.
“At the start of the game, they scored first and then we tied it,” Wilder commented. “We hadn’t scored the year before so the first touchdown by Duhart gave everybody confidence and really got the fans into it. Then, they scored to go up 14-7 and they had the ball, and I think one of the key plays of the game, Geronda Hall intercepted a pass before the half and then we scored, LaRussa to Duhart and now its 14-14 at the half and everybody in the stadium thinks something could happen.”
Wilder went on to recap the scoring and momentum shifts, “They scored again 21-14 and we answer with a TD by LaRussa 21-21, they score the very next play on a 75-yard touchdown pass and we answer again. We hit Fulgham so it’s 28-28. We kept getting behind and catching up, and every time we scored to tie it, we gained confidence, I know it seems crazy because you are going ‘wait a minute you kept falling behind’, just the fact that it kept getting later and later in the game and we stayed with them. The first time that we took the lead when Cox scored to make it 35-28, that’s the first time I felt like we were going to win because that was in the fourth quarter and we had run the ball and went right down the field.”
From there, Chris Cunningham, who later transferred to ODU along with former Tech teammate Eric Kumah, scored on a 4th and 3 pass to tie the game at 35-35 before LaRussa hit Duhart to take the lead, and Jeremy Cox put the nail in the coffin to make it 49-35.
Bailey Cate was the punter for ODU that day, and is still with the Monarchs’ program.
“For me personally I remember waking up at 4:30 that morning because my roommate was snoring up a storm. I went down to the lobby and sat out on the porch watching the sun rise,” Cate said. “ I remember tweeting “Why not us?” which is what coach Wilder had been preaching to us all week since they (Virginia Tech) were coming in as the #13 team in the country and we had yet to win a game.”
“As the morning went on and other players started to wake up for breakfast there was not much talk just focusing on the biggest game of all of our time here at ODU. Upon arriving to the stadium one thing that stuck out was the amount of Tech fans that were there. It kinda felt as if we were the visiting team. In pregame there was a lot of guys that were reuniting with ex-teammates from high school which was kinda cool to see, but other than that everyone was focused in on what we had to do.”
“Before running out of the tunnel coach Wilder said, ‘To win the game we are going to have to keep it close’ and that is what we did. Coming in at half time there was excitement but we knew it wasn’t close to being over, especially after the previous year they put 30 points up in the second half. Coach Wilder reiterated that we needed to keep it close and that once the fourth quarter came around if we were close they would start to fraction and split apart. You started to see that happen at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth with the unsportsmanlike penalties and arguing among themselves, this was the turning point that I knew we were going to make history,” Cate exclaimed.
“To me it was a dream come true. To beat a top 25 team is something that I never dreamed I would even be a part of. Every time I walk in to the stadium after that day I have flashbacks to September 22nd and the celebration after it, like watching the linemen rip down the fence because the security guards wouldn’t let students on the field. Things like that are what are forever planted in my mind,” Cate commented.
Ray Wittersheim is known as “Juice Man” to ODU coaches, players, and fans and is a fan we have profiled on this blog before. He is a season ticket holder and was in the stands the day of the upset, the same place he used to watch the Norfolk Neptunes play when he was younger.
Wittersheim actually went to Tech for a year when he was younger, so his perspective is a unique one.
“It was a dream come true,” Wittersheim recalled. “As the game progressed, almost series by series, we (ODU) held on and were hanging in there, then we got ahead. I was always sitting there worried about ‘okay when is Tech going to bust loose?’ Well they never busted loose because we didn’t give them an opportunity and these kids played the game of their life and it was phenomenal, I’ll never forget it for as long as I live.”
That last line, “I’ll never forget it for as long as I live,” is the same phrase a majority of the people at Foreman that day echo.
Someone I met at this game, who really welcomed me to ODU with open arms was Kyle Barkle. Kyle is currently the ODU Football Digital Media Coordinator, but at the time he was a Recruiting/Graphic Design Student Assistant.
“I remember that I approached it just like I would any other game day and arrived at the office early to make sure I had all of my gameday graphics made up and ready to go with all of my equipment,” Barkle recalled. “We also had a pretty large group of recruits at the game, a lot of guys that had committed prior to the game, so the energy was high and there was a family vibe to the group.”
“I remember being on the field prior to the team warm up and passing the ball around with Punter Bailey Cate before he started his warm up, the energy was high with all of the guys on the field and the stands filled fast as we expected them to. For the game I was up in the slam-packed press box with my laptop,” Barkle said. “I felt that we had solid momentum throughout the game and after Geronda Hall’s interception I had a great feeling that we would have a solid chance, and with the youth in VT’s secondary I knew that if Blake even got the ball close to Travis (Fulgham) or (Travis) Duhart 50/50 balls were more like 90/10 balls.
Postgame is when it really got hectic for Kyle. “When the clock hit zero I remember scrambling to tweet out the final score and fumbling my laptop and camera equipment into my backpack, scrambled down the stairs and actually ran into my mother on the way down who was attending the game and gave her a big hug and continued to hurry down to the field to get with the guys and get pictures of the aftermath,” Barkle explained. “On the field I remember taking a couple pictures of fans posing with Oshane (Ximines) and a couple shots of Oshane and (Jeremy) Cox in front of the scoreboard. The locker room afterwards was full of energy and music.”
“After any ODU win a dance party always breaks out in the locker room, coach Wilder gave a very short but impactful speech to the team and expressed how proud he was of the team and President Broderick having just come back from burying his father spoke shortly with the team on how proud of the organization he was.”
This is the story of the day Old Dominion shocked the college football world, for some it was the realization of a dream, for others a shock to the system.
But it will always be the ODUpset.