It was a tale of two halves in Norfolk, with UTSA getting the better of Old Dominion in the second to best the Monarchs for the first time in program history.
The Roadrunners were led by quarterback Lowell Narcisse, who had by far his best performance of the season with an impressive filling of the stat sheet: 18 for 23 passing (78% completion) with 240 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers. Narcisse’s development over the year has been jarring. Since throwing for only 46 yards in his debut start against UTEP, he has steadily climbed each week to become a much more composed, confident player. The command and precision that was lacking so much in his throws was commonplace on Saturday, as he whizzed the ball to six different receivers with four of those targets hauling in 15+ yard receptions.
Narcisse has found his go-to target in freshman wideout Zakhari Franklin, the team’s second leading receiver despite only playing in six games this year. Franklin took charge with a game-high six receptions for a whopping 134 yards, including a 65-yard bomb in the first quarter to setup a UTSA field goal from placekicker Hunter Duplessis. In fact, since Franklin was awarded the starting job, the true freshman is averaging about five catches and 70 yards per game.
Coupled with a tremendous running effort from freshman Roadrunner Sincere McCormick, the youthful skill positions for UTSA piloted the team’s offensive success. McCormick came up big with 137 yards on 23 carries (6.0 avg) and a pair of touchdowns. He put the Roadrunners on the scoreboard first with a 46 yard touchdown run on the game’s opening drive and is now back on pace for a 1,000-yard season after a slow production against Texas A&M last week. On his current trek, McCormick will finish with 997 yards this season.
Despite the strong showing on the box score, it wasn’t all roses for UTSA. As stated, this was a tale of two halves, and ODU was winning rather handily going into the intermission.
Monarch Quarterback Hayden Wolff made his home debut and had himself a day, completing 17 of his 29 attempts for 247 yards, a touchdown and one interception. He wasn’t ODU’s only big passer, however, with former Monarch quarterback and current wide receiver Steven Williams connecting on a 42 yard touchdown pass with fellow wideout Isaiah Spencer on some lateral trickery late in the first quarter. The touchdown tied the game at 10.
On ODU’s very next possession Wolff completed a 58 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Aaron Moore - the first touchdown of the freshman’s collegiate career. It was a beautiful needle thread between two members of UTSA’s secondary. On arm talent alone, Wolff looks like a promising fit to captain this offense in the coming years.
Wolff completed passes to ten different receivers. Following the touchdown pass, Wolff threw three passes for 56 yards to lead the Monarchs back downfield and setup a 37 yard field goal from placekicker Nick Rice. It was three straight scoring drives from ODU, who held a commanding 20-10 lead late in the second quarter. UTSA answered those three scoring drives with a punt, a lost fumble, and another punt.
Wolff and company were driving yet again as the first half dwindled down to two minutes. On what may have been the most important play of the game for the Roadrunners, cornerback Cassius Grady intercepted Wolff on UTSA’s own 16 yard line, saving what would have certainly been a fourth consecutive score for the Monarchs.
After halftime adjustments, the Roadrunner defense only allowed an ODU field goal for the rest of the game, tackling much better and keeping the ball in front of them. Narcisse took over the UTSA offense and put it on his back, fighting for third and fourth down conversions with his arm and his legs to lead back-to-back touchdown drives and give the Roadrunners the lead late in the game. The go-ahead touchdown came on an 11 yard completion to tight end Carlos Strickland, with Duplessis’ extra point giving the difference.
The Monarchs would have one more chance. In the same fashion as Grady’s interception before halftime, the UTSA defense came up with a big turnover to seal the victory. Wolff was strip-sacked by UTSA linebacker Clarence Hicks right before midfield, with defensive end Jarrod Carter-McLin recovering the football to cement the comeback.
The win puts UTSA at 4-8 (3-2 C-USA), eclipsing their win total from last season. The Roadrunners take on a stout 6-3 (4-1 C-USA) Southern Miss team in the Alamodome next week.
ODU, on the other hand, drops their ninth straight game, falling to 1-9 (0-6 C-USA) overall. As dismal as that is, Monarch fans should be excited about the new-look offense from Wolff and what he can bring the program in the future. They’ve got a winnable game next week against a 3-6 (2-3 C-USA) Middle Tennessee team on the road.