Monty Smalley's 32-yard punt return with 4:31 remaining in the fourth quarter electrified the crowd in the fourth quarter after sitting on its hands through two scoreless quarters.
Approaching the opportunity at Gardner-Webb's 20-yard line with a now-or-never attitude, Old Dominon pieced together a 3-play, 20-yard drive, capped by quarterback Thomas DeMarco's 5-yard touchdown run on an option read 49 seconds later to lift the Monarchs to a 14-7 win — the team's first at Foreman Field this season.
"(Prentice Gill) came to the sideline and said 'Thank god you didn't hand me that ball because I got hit on that play,' so it was just my time to carry the ball," DeMarco said. "It worked out perfect. We had a short field and we ran the right plays to punch it in."
ODU (3-2) and Gardner-Webb (2-3) combined for 18 punts throughout a defensive battle Saturday night. Monarchs' punter Jonathan Plisco earned his money's worth, punting eight times for a total of 378 yards, while landing five punts inside the 20 yard line. GWU's average field position start was at its own 25-yard line.
"Plisco was definitely a weapon tonight," ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. "In a game that was headed in that direction, drive starts for both teams were absolutely critical tonight."
ODU's defense — led by Paul Morant and J.J. Williams team-high 10 tackles — limited the Bulldogs to 24 yards on the second half, forcing Graham Purvis to punt six times. Bulldogs' sophomore quarterback John Rock sat out due to a concussion suffered last weekend against Sam Houston State. Freshman Chandler Browning, who was sacked five times, finished the game with 130 passing yards and 15 for 30 passing.
"The defense was relentless tonight," Wilder said. "Entering this game, the goal was to take back our house tonight."
After losing its first game of the season at home and dropping a tough one against William and Mary, ODU jumped out of the gates quickly, scoring on its opening offensive possession of the game. DeMarco, who finished the game with 141 passing yards on 15-33 passing, completed 3 of 4 passes on the drive for 26 yards. His biggest completion of the drive came on third-and-13, when the red shirt junior found wide receiver Reid Evans on a comeback route, as the Monarchs benefited from a roughing the passer penalty.
DeMarco took the next play four yards on a quarterback keeper, then handed the ball to Mario Crawford carried the next hand off another four yards for a touchdown with 10:56 remaining in the first quarter, capping a 9-play, 74-yard drive in 2:40 minutes.
After ODU's opening kickoff traveled out of bounds, linebacker Craig Wilkins recovered the ensuing onside kick at its on 43-yard line, but DeMarco threw an interception on the first play of the drive.
On its only offensive possession starting inside ODU territory in the first half, Browning delivered a 9-yard pass to receiver James Perry. The Bulldogs assembled in wildcat formation and snapped the ball to freshman receiver Richard Jules, who broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage before reaching the end zone on a 9-yard run, tying the score at 7 with 1:36 remaining in the first quarter to cap a 4-play, 36 yard drive.
ODU will attempt its third consecutive win on the season next weekend when it host Cal Poly at 6 p.m.
"That was the biggest win of the season for us this year," senior defensive end Deron Mayo said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun