A Win for the Ages
September 27, 2018
By Harry Minium
Let me begin by stating the obvious. Old Dominion's stunning, 49-35 football victory over 13th-ranked Virginia Tech Saturday night was the biggest sports triumph in school history.
And by that, I mean the biggest victory in any sport.
Others may disagree and say it was the 1975 Division II national basketball championship. There were the three national titles won by the Lady Monarch basketball team. And who can forget the ODU basketball victory over No. 1 DePaul?
But football is the big dog in college athletics and for the first time in its football history, ODU landed a blow worthy of national attention.
ODU joins Appalachian State (remember App State's upset at Michigan?) as a giant killer. ESPN reported that this was the biggest upset of an ACC team, based on the point spread, in 40 years.
And ODU won in dominant fashion. Every time the Hokies punched the Monarchs, ODU punched back.
Toward the end of the fourth quarter, it was clear that ODU had worn the Hokies down. Think about that. ODU wore down the team from a program that has been to 25 consecutive bowl games and won 14 in a row over archrival Virginia.
ODU was the second trending topic on Twitter much of Saturday night and the Monarchs were all over national TV as pundits expounded to how a relatively unknown, winless mid-major managed to pound the Hokies.
And pound they did -- ODU rolled to 632 yards, the most ever surrendered by Tech in Bud Foster's 24 years as the school's legendary defensive coordinator.
Trying to encapsulate the emotion as the seconds ticked away is difficult for me to because I'm not unbiased. I admire and like the people at Virginia Tech, who do things the right way. I have dear friends there.
But I was rooting for ODU. The school not only feeds my family, ODU is my alma mater.
As students stormed the field and celebrated wildly with the team, I shared their joy. People didn't know each other hugged or exchanged high fives.
Head coach Bobby Wilder got so into it that as his players were headed off the field, he called them back to celebrate with the students.
"I'm really glad the students came on the field," Wilder said. "It's not very often that you get to celebrate a victory that's this significant. These players are their classmates and they should have been celebrating together.
"I know I'll cherish it forever."
The celebration continued in the locker room, where there was a particularly poignant moment when President John R. Broderick spoke.
You probably don't know this, but this has been a difficult week for Broderick. His father, Donald Broderick died at the age of 94 on Sept. 14. His dad, the president told me, was a diehard Boston Red Sox, UConn and ODU fan.
Wilder invited Broderick and athletic director Wood Selig to speak to the Monarchs after the game. "Without John Broderick and without Wood Selig, we wouldn't be playing Virginia Tech," Wilder said.
Broderick soldiered through his grief last week, leading a Board of Visitors meeting on Thursday that took up most of the day before heading back to Connecticut.
I'll let him tell you about the rest of his weekend.
"I couldn't be any prouder of you," he told the Monarchs. "Today might have been the saddest morning of my life.
"We buried my dad. And to come back here and to get this, I can't thank you enough. And I know somewhere up there, because he was a big fan of coach Wilder's, he's looking down here and saying . . . "
I couldn't hear the rest of what he said because the players exploded into cheers. Half a dozen came over and hugged him.
Several players lost it, and tears rolled down their cheeks. Same here. It was a moment I'll never forget.
"I'm so sorry he lost his father," said wide receiver Travis Fulgham, who caught a career-high nine passes for a career high 188 yards.
"I'm glad were could go out there and maybe make him forget about it for a little while and give him a little joy."
Wilder acknowledged an hour after the game that the reality of what his team did has not sunk it.
"It just feels surreal," he said.
Perhaps that's in part because this victory was so unexpected. Let's not forget that ODU lost its first three games, including a 52-10, crushing defeat at Liberty University.
Virginia Tech upset Florida State 24-3 on the road and destroyed William and Mary 62-17 and was expected to do the same to the Monarchs.
ODU was a 29-point underdog. ESPN gave the Monarchs a 1.8 percent chance of winning.
"Yep, we had a chance, and that's all we needed," said Oshane Ximines, the senior defensive end from Ahoskie, N.C., with just a touch of sarcasm.
Ximines said the crowd at Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium was unlike anything he'd ever experienced. The throng was announced at 20,532, the most ever for an ODU home game, and 414 more the stadium's capacity of 20,118.
And ODU fans, whom I have criticized in the past, deserve a lot of credit. There was a lot of maroon and orange at Ballard Stadium and I half expected the Hokies' legendary legion of fans to turn Saturday night into a Tech pep rally.
It clearly wasn't. And while Tech fans were loud, they were drowned out by the ODU faithful, who ended the game chanting "ODU, ODU," over and over.
Unlike so many games I've seen, nearly everyone stayed until the game ended. No heading out the exits to hit the tailgate lots. People were glued to their seats.
"It was electric the whole game," Ximines said. "Every time I looked back at the crowd, people were going nuts.
"It was an incredible feeling. Our crowd gave us an extra push."
Ximines was often double teamed, but had two sacks, 2 ½ tackles for a loss, a quarterback hurry and seven tackles. No doubt, he improved his stature with the NFL - eight pro scouts attended Saturday's game to watch him.
But the hero of this game was quarterback Blake LaRussa, the former walk-on from Bishop Sullivan who completed 30 of 49 passes for 495 yards and four touchdowns.
Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart (9 receptions for 142 yards and 3 TDs) were his most frequent targets.
ODU's defense gave up 600 yards, and on any other night, that might have spelled doom for the Monarchs.
Yet when ODU absolutely needed a defensive stop, they got one. Tech had the ball on ODU's 21 and a third down with four yards to go with three minutes left. The Hokies needed a touchdown to tie the score.
Instead, ODU defenders batted away two Tech passes.
A few plays later, Jeremy Cox sprinted 40 yards for a TD that sealed the victory with 1:34 to go, and the celebration began.
Since ODU's 28-25 loss at Charlotte on Sept. 15, naysayers have been all over social media trashing Wilder and even some of his players. So many have said that ODU never should have moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision, and that Wilder can't win at this level.
"I don't listen to people outside of that locker room," Ximines said, pointing behind him, but then said something that says he's seen the talk on social media.
"We've got great coaches," he said. "And anybody who says they're not great coaches don't know what they're talking about."
So many fans expected the Monarchs to get crushed. A few texted that they only hoped Tech would win by 28.
The players never stopped believing. All week long, they insisted this was a winnable game.
At 6:59 Saturday morning, ODU punter Bailey Cate Tweeted, "Why not us?"
Why not indeed.
"The world was able to see how good of a football team we are," Ximines said. "Tonight, we made a statement about ODU football."