TOWSON, Md. – Sophomore quarterback Taylor Heinicke accounted for 337 yards of total offense and scored two touchdowns as he led No. 7 Old Dominion University (6-1, 3-1) to a 31-20 Colonial Athletic Association victory over the Tigers (3-4, 2-2) at Minnegan Field at Johnny Unitas® Stadium on Saturday night.
Heinicke came into the game as the leader of the top-ranked offense in NCAA FCS, averaging more than 49 points per game. Although the Monarchs didn’t approach their average, they took command early and held on to win.
“We came in here aware that we were facing a very good Towson team,” said ODU Coach Bobby Wilder. “Towson has the best defense in the CAA and we were all impressed with how well they played against LSU a few weeks ago. We knew this would be a major challenge and we had to be smart with the ball. The start of the game was the key for us.”
The Monarchs stunned the Tigers by taking a 10-0 lead in the first six minutes of the game. ODU took the opening kickoff and marched to the Tigers’ nine-yard line. Junior Jarod Brown came in and kicked a 27-yard field goal to put ODU ahead, 3-0. Moments later, Malique Johnson recovered a fumble on Derrick Joseph’s kickoff return and the Monarchs took over at the Towson 22-yard line. Four plays later, Heinicke threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Vaughn, giving ODU a 10-0 lead with 9:44 left in the first quarter.
On the Tigers’ next possession, they marched to the Monarchs’ 32-yard line. Senior quarterback Grant Enders was hit as he threw the ball and defensive tackle Chris Burnette intercepted. Once again, the Monarchs moved the ball deep into Towson territory. However, Brown missed 26-yard field goal and the Tigers’ deficit remained at 10-0.
Late in the first quarter, the Tigers staged their best drive of the game. But, the drive stalled at the ODU 12-yard line and junior D.J. Soven kicked a 30-yard field goal, cutting the lead to 10-3.
Using their no-huddle offense, the Monarchs came right back and marched 78 yards in nine plays to increase their lead to 17-3. Heinicke passed for 71 yards on the drive and scored a touchdown on a six-yard run.
Once again, the Tigers marched deep into ODU territory before they stopped at the ODU 23-yard line. Soven kicked a 40-yard field goal with seven seconds left in the half and ODU led at intermission, 17-6.
On their first possession of the second half, the Monarchs increased their lead to 24-6. Facing second down-and-eight at the Towson 36-yard line, Heinicke went back to pass and couldn’t find an open receiver. So, he tucked the ball away and ran 36 yards for his second touchdown of the game, giving ODU a 24-6 lead.
Late in the third quarter, the Monarchs extended their lead to 31-6, thanks to a heads-up play by sophomore wide receiver Blair Roberts. After marching to the Towson two-yard line, Angus Harper took a handoff and fumbled at the one. The ball bounced into the end zone where Roberts fell on it for a touchdown.
Once the Monarchs upped their lead to 31-6, Towson controlled the fourth quarter as the Tigers tried to get back in the game.
Enders led the Tigers on a quick 71-yard, five-play drive as he scored on a three-yard run to pull the Tigers to within 31-13.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Tigers pulled to within 31-20 with 10:42 remaining. Enders capped off a 66-yard, five-play drive by throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cory Kirby, the first TD catch of his career.
Soven tried an onsides kick on the following kickoff but the Monarchs recovered. Heinicke led his team on a drive to the four-yard line. But, sophomore cornerback Tye Smith intercepted a pass in the end zone and the Tigers took over at their own 20-yard line.
Once again, the Tigers moved down the field efficiently. On fourth down-and-four at the ODU eight-yard line, Enders fired a pass to senior Tom Ryan in the corner of the end zone. There was lots of contact but no penalty was called and the pass fell incomplete.
The Monarchs took over at their own eight-yard line with 4:26 left and proceeded to run out the clock.
“There is no way we can give up the ball two times in the first quarter and blow red zone chances like we did and expect to beat that team,” said Towson Coach Rob Ambrose. ”You saw dropped balls tonight that you’ve never seen before. A couple of those were pretty big. Once again, we got whooped up front in the red zone. It’s a story I’m getting tired of hearing and we actually made some changes because of it.”
Heinicke led the Monarchs by completing 26 of 39 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a team high 71 yards on 10 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns.
Despite playing without sophomore running back Terrance West, the Tigers ran for 165 yards on only 26 attempts. Enders led the Tigers with a game high 94 yards on seven carries. Senior Dominique Booker, who made his first start of the season, had 10 carries for 38 yards while Sterlin Phifer ran for 24 yards on eight attempts.
Enders completed 26 of 41 passes for 290 yards and one touchdown. Senior Gerrard Sheppard was the Tigers’ top receiver. He caught seven passes for 86 yards while senior Tom Ryan had five receptions for 66 yards.
Junior linebacker Monte Gaddis led the Tigers with 12 tackles while Smith made nine tackles and intercepted a pass.
The Tigers return to action next week when they visit Villanova at 3:30 p.m.