By Chuck Burton
College Sports Journal
(Photo Credit: Old Dominion University players block a field goal attempt by Norfolk State University’s Ryan Estep on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, Ross Taylor, The Virginian-Pilot)
Full Viriginian-Pilot photo gallery here.
NORFOLK, VA. — For a brief moment, the loud voices in Old Dominion’s vociferous crowd were silent.
In the first two minutes of the game, Norfolk State senior quarterback Chris Walley got loose from the Monarchs’ pass rush up the middle, unloaded a rocket to wideout Derrick Demps, and – after two Monarch defensive backs ran squarely into each other — Norfolk State took a 7-0 lead on its crosstown opponent.
It would prove to be one of the few memorable moment for the Spartans, however, as the Monarchs quickly regrouped and scored the next 35 points en route to a 35-18 victory.
After Walley got the scoring started, it would be an effecient passing day by a true freshman on Old Dominion, Taylor Heinicke, that would stand out on the afternoon.
On the ensuing drive, Heinicke would find wideout Prentice Gill streaking for a 42-yard gain, before hitting a wide-open Nick Mayers for a 29 yard strike and ultimately a three-yard slant to tie the game.
“I misjudged the first touchdown a little bit,” Gill said after the game. “I was able to recover and get past the defender and pull it in for the score. Taylor’s touch was great today. He put it in a spot that only I could get to on several occasions.”
Then, Old Dominion’s defense got into the act, as two Monarchs interceptions, one by Carvin Powell and another by Eriq Lewis, would set up consecutive touchdowns that would prove to be a backbreaker for the Spartans.
Those critical turnovers – and an eye-popping eighteen penalties for the Spartans, many of them inflicted on Norfolk State by a loud Old Dominion fan base – proved to be too much.
“I was pleased with how our season went, obviously not pleased with the result today,” Norfolk State head coach Pete Adrian said after the game. “You can’t beat anybody with 18 penalties and we have nobody to blamed but ourselves. Converting just three third downs on the day isn’t going to get it done either.
“Old Dominion is a good team, there is no question about that. Our game plan was to make them throw deep and we just didn’t play well defensively. We were fairly good against the run, but Taylor Heinicke has the uncanny ability to find guys open down the field on the run and we just didn’t have an answer for that.”
Heinicke would connect with Larry Pickard for a four-yard touchdown, and Gill for a 29 yard strike, to give the Monarchs a 21-7 lead and to ensure that Foreman Field would remain loud in favor of Old Dominion the rest of the way.
“There were a lot of miscommunications and blown assignments today that led to points for them,” Norfolk State linebacker Hasan Craig added. “Things got mixed up in the secondary too many times.”
Another part of the game that would get mixed up for the Spartans was the kicking game, where two critical field goal attempts were blocked on low kicks that would have cut the Spartans’ early two-touchdown deficit.
“”What an incredible atmosphere here today for this game. We are very excited with the win and how we played,” Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder said after the game. “I thought we played solid all around after that with special teams and the blocks, our defense shut them down and then the offense really clicking through the air. Our run game wasn’t great, but credit Norfolk State for that, they are exceptional against the run.”
In the Monarchs’ first-ever playoff game, Heinicke set a tough standard for all future Monarch signal callers, connecting on 21-of-30 passes for 269 yards and 5 touchdowns.
“I thought Heinicke was very poised,” Wilder said, “and he made good decisions and the pressure was on him with the running game stalling.”
Mayers led all Monarch receivers with 6 catches for 65 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Gill would add 4 catches for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns as well.
“I thought we had a good chance to excel with the athletic and intelligent receivers we have and the man coverage that Norfolk State was playing,” Heinecke said. “They dropped eight guys most of the game and they’re athletic and fast so I just had to be patient and wait for the holes to open up and find our guys.”
With their first-ever playoff win, the Monarchs now head into Round Two to face Georgia Southern in Statesboro, Georgia.