Old Dominion holds off Eastern Michigan 24-20 for program’s first bowl victory

Old Dominion, making the school’s first bowl appearance since the football program restarted in 2009, held off Eastern Michigan 24-20 to win the 2016 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.

“I just want to say how excited we are to win the game, but number two how grateful we are for how we were treated this week by everybody associated with the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl – all the wonderful people we met,” ODU head coach Bobby Wilder said. “This was a life-changing experience. We made memories to last a lifetime, and to win the game makes it that much more special.”

Led by Offensive Player of the Game running back Ray Lawry and his 133 rushing yards, the Monarchs (10-3) left the Bahamas with a six-game win streak and their first bowl trophy. Quarterback David Washington added 188 passing yards and three touchdowns for ODU.

“He’s really good, obviously tough to tackle,” EMU head coach Chris Creighton said of Lawry. “We’ve become a pretty good tackling team, and I think today, he had a lot to do with several missed tackles. Their running game obviously didn’t trip today.”

Eastern Michigan quarterback Brogan Roback did all he could to keep the Eagles (7-6) in the game, throwing for 300 yards and two second-half touchdowns, but it was not enough to help EMU to a title in their first bowl game in 29 years.

Eastern Michigan dominated the time of possession, holding the ball 32:30 to the Monarchs’ 27:30, and converted on a season-high 13 third-downs, but it was the Old Dominion defense that made one final stand late in the fourth quarter.

ODU senior linebacker TJ Ricks was named Defensive Player of the Game after finishing with nine tackles, including one for a loss.

“The defense … we just came to the sideline and talked to each other and just told each other to trust each other,” Ricks said of the entire ODU defensive performance. “You’re our 1/11th on the field. If one guy does his job, and everybody else does their job, we’ll be good on defense.”

Through the first 30 minutes, Old Dominion was the only team able to put points on the board, holding a 10-0 lead at the half. It was the eighth time this season the Monarchs led a game at the break.

ODU got on the board first when Brad Davis connected on a 34-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 7:43 remaining in the first quarter. The 16-play, 58-yard drive appeared to stall at midfield when the Monarchs faced a fourth-and-two situation. Wilder dialed up a fake punt, calling a direct snap to running back Jeremy Cox, who drove the ball three yards for the first down.

Old Dominion extended its lead to 10-0 behind a 47-yard touchdown pass from Washington to Zach Pascal. The six-play, 80-yard drive began with Anthony Wilson picking off Roback in the end zone for a touchback, and the drive took just 2:23.

Unlike the first half, both teams’ offenses came out of the locker rooms on fire. Each team found the end zone in the first five minutes of action in the third quarter.

After receiving the kickoff to start the second half, Roback put the Eagles on the board, driving his team 76 yards in 2:50, capped off by a five-yard strike to wide receiver Sergio Bailey to cut the Old Dominion lead to 10-7.

It didn’t take long for the Monarchs to respond, as Washington found Travis Fulgham downfield for a 31-yard touchdown with no defender in sight to push the ODU lead to 17-7 with 9:50 remaining in the third quarter.

Roback hit Johnnie Niupalau for a five-yard touchdown pass, capitalizing on another quick drive to pull to 17-14 with 7:25 left in the third quarter.

A 24-yard field goal by Eastern Michigan’s Paul Fricano with 12 seconds remaining in the third tied the game at 17-17.

Opening the fourth quarter, Washington drove Old Dominion 72 yards in 2:09 to put the Monarchs back on top 24-17 after hitting Jonathan Duhart on a five-yard TD pass in the corner of the end zone – his third passing touchdown of the game.

Fricano connected on a 19-yard field goal with 9:08 to play to cut the Monarchs lead to 24-20.

The Eagles had a chance late, driving the ball to midfield, but couldn’t keep their drive going, punting the ball back to Old Dominion. ODU ran out the final 5:21 to secure the victory.

“This is the most memorable season I’ve been a part of and it’s got a lot more to do with stuff away from football than it does on the field,” Wilder said. “This is a special group.”

Linebacker Kyle Rachwal led the Eagles defense with eight tackles.

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