Home ODU blows 28-0 lead, falls to Western Kentucky, 38-35, in Famous Toastery Bowl

ODU blows 28-0 lead, falls to Western Kentucky, 38-35, in Famous Toastery Bowl

Scott Ratcliffe
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Old Dominion scored four first-half touchdowns to build a sizable lead in Monday’s Famous Toastery Bowl in Charlotte, but it wasn’t enough as underdog Western Kentucky stormed back for a 38-35 win in overtime

Playing in just their third bowl game in program history (since 2009), the Monarchs (6-7) were a 5-point favorite coming in and built a 21-point advantage by halftime, but the Hilltoppers chipped away in the second half and knotted the score with 19 seconds left in regulation.

WKU (8-5), which committed four turnovers before halftime and five for the game, came away with its second blocked field goal of the contest on ODU’s opening possession of overtime. A few plays later, Lucas Carneiro completed the rally with a walkoff, 29-yard field goal as his teammates mobbed him in celebration.

Old Dominion has now dropped seven of its eight all-time meetings against its former Conference USA foe. The Monarchs had won each of their last two regular-season games — both in improbable, comeback fashion, both on the final play — and carried that momentum into Monday’s game.

Isiah Paige set the tone with a 1-yard touchdown catch on the game’s opening drive. The scoring play was set up by junior quarterback Grant Wilson, an Arlington native who played his first two seasons at Fordham, as he hustled 79 yards on a keeper and was tripped up just shy of the goal line.

After a sack and fumble recovery by the ODU defense, the Monarchs were back in business — Denzel Riley popped it loose, LaMareon James scooped it up. Kadarius Calloway trotted in from 5 yards out to double the lead to 14-0 with 9:06 left in the first quarter.

ODU was back in the end zone three plays later, as Kris Caine picked off a Turner Helton pass and took it 30 yards to the house to make it 21-zip with still 7:54 on the clock. Helton, the nephew of WKU head coach Tyson Helton, who had completed all eight of his pass attempts in the regular season, got his first start after regular QB Austin Reed (who threw for over 14,000 yards for his career) opted out of the contest.

The Monarchs had only scored 24 first-quarter points all season long, and none since Nov. 4 against Coastal Carolina, but they had a chance to eclipse that total across the first 15 minutes of Monday’s game alone, after causing another WKU fumble on the ensuing possession.

Wilson capped a 10-play, 81-yard march with an 11-yard scamper, and it was a 28-0 ballgame with still 13:38 left in the first half.

After Helton’s two early turnovers, the Hilltoppers elected to go with redshirt-freshman Caden Veltkamp, and the move ultimately paid off.

“As soon as I went in, I said, ‘We’re gonna win…,’” said the reserve QB, who actually put his name in the transfer portal prior to the contest and admitted that he’s not sure if he’ll return next season. “It took until the very last play to do it, but it’s because of the guys around me. These guys played unreal.”

Veltkamp, who also saw limited action during the season, led the comeback effort, throwing for 383 yards, 5 touchdowns, completing 40 of his 52 attempts while also leading the team in rushing with 53 yards on 19 carries.

Dalvin Smith caught 3 of those TD tosses from Veltkamp — the first two of them were of the one-handed, highlight-reel variety to get his team back in the game at 28-14 early in the third quarter.

Wilson answered with his second touchdown run of the game to push the lead back to 21 with 3:04 to go in the third quarter, but it turned out to be all Hilltoppers from there.

On the second play of the fourth, Veltkamp connected with Elijah Young, who hurdled a defender and raced 37 yards to pay dirt with 14:09 remaining.

Wilson threw an interception on the very next snap, which led to Smith’s third touchdown grab of the night, making it a one-possession affair, 35-28, with 9:42 left in regulation.

After an ODU punt, the Monarchs recovered another WKU fumble, this one at the Hilltoppers’ 35-yard line with just over five minutes to play, and had an opportunity to put the game away, but a 47-yard field-goal attempt by Ethan Sanchez was blocked with 2:53 on the game clock.

Veltkamp calmly engineered the game-tying drive, getting the ball to the ODU 5-yard line with 30 seconds left before being dropped for a 10-yard loss, setting up an all-important fourth-down conversion with the game on the line. Veltkamp then found K.D. Hutchinson for a 15-yard score to send the game to an extra session.

After Sanchez’s kick was blocked in OT, all the Hilltoppers needed was a field goal of their own. On a crucial third-and-11 from the 26, Veltkamp completed a short pass to Easton Messer, who broke a tackle and kept the chains moving with a 13-yard gain. Three plays later, Carneiro sent everyone home with his game-winning boot from 29 yards out.

“I’ll look back on this one and be very, very proud of this win,” Coach Helton said afterwards. “Just so proud of our football team, how they battled and how they kept playing. They have a warrior spirit and we talk about it all the time, and they showed it tonight.”

Wilson accounted for 249 yards (123 passing, 126 rushing) and three touchdowns on the evening, but it ultimately wasn’t enough, as Western Kentucky posted 471 total yards of offense, with 398 of those coming through the air.

The Monarchs, who were 6-5 this season in games decided by 7 points or less (more such games than any team in the country), will have the entire offseason to figure out what went wrong and how to correct it.

“We needed to close the game out and find a way to win and we didn’t do that,” said ODU head coach Ricky Rahne. “You can’t have two field goals blocked and expect to win. I’ve never been a part of a team that’s had two blocked. It’s inexcusable.

“But you have to give all the credit in the world to those guys across the field. They made some big plays when they had to. One kid (Smith) had two one-handed touchdown receptions.”

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.