NORFOLK — Old Dominion's football revival was humbled like never before Saturday. Exposed, gouged and dominated.
And that in itself is remarkable. When the Monarchs re-started their long-dormant program in 2009, beatdowns seemed inevitable, no matter the talent base here in Hampton Roads.
Never happened. Not against the Colonial Athletic Association heavyweights. Not against six-time national champion Georgia Southern in last season's playoffs.
Saturday it was happening. National power New Hampshire was racking up silly numbers and led ODU by 23 points early in the third quarter.
But here's something more remarkable: The fifth-ranked Monarchs rallied for a 64-61 victory that was, in every sense of the word, historic.
There will be, and should be, much lamenting among players and coaches over countless defensive breakdowns. But before addressing those and their macro implications, let's attempt, albeit inadequately, to comprehend the pyrotechnics witnessed by 20,068 spectators and a regional television audience.
ODU (4-0, 1-0 CAA) and 18th-ranked New Hampshire (2-2, 0-1) combined for the most yards in Championship Subdivision history (1,549) and the most points in CAA annals. The Monarchs had 507 yards and 40 points after intermission and, excluding a final-play knee, scored five touchdowns and a field goal on their final six possessions.
"That's the Old Dominion offense," quarterback Taylor Heinicke said with a straight face.
A true sophomore with just 13 games of college experience, the understated Heinicke is about to go viral, trend on Twitter and whatever else comes with football celebrity these days.
His 730 passing yards Saturday are a Division I record, his 791 yards in offense the most in college history at any level. Precisely orchestrating the Monarchs' fast-break, shotgun spread, he completed 55-of-79 throws, five of which produced touchdowns, without an interception.
Heinicke is blessed by an array of playmakers, Nick Mayers (12 receptions, 271 yards and three scores) chief among them. And his five offensive linemen, each of whom played all 106 snaps Saturday, shielded him throughout.
But Heinicke's grasp of the offense and poise under pressure border on Manning-esque.
"They've got a guy pulling the trigger who doesn't make mistakes," New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said.
Seems that way at times. Heinicke threw 25 touchdown passes and only one pick last season. He's thrown four to the wrong team this year, but after Saturday he's averaging 480.3 passing yards per game.
"I have a hard time fathoming what he does on the field on a regular basis," ODU coach Bobby Wilder said.
Wilder's trust in Heinicke has come to this: The kid has total autonomy to change any play at the line of scrimmage.
"I'm on the sideline looking and thinking, 'How did he see that?'" Wilder said of Heinicke's knack for reading coverages.
Oh, and don't forget Heinicke, generously listed at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, was the Monarchs' leading rusher with 61 yards on 11 carries.
"Absolutely," he said.
"We're not going to pull a Strasburg," Wilder laughed.
Heinicke's numbers heretofore this season could be discounted by ODU's comfortable schedule. Not Saturday. New Hampshire has reached the playoffs the last eight seasons, the nation's longest active streak, and allowed its first three opponents a combined 556 passing yards.
Wilder believes Heinicke is capable of similar performances, and barring serious defensive improvement, the Monarchs will need exactly that.
New Hampshire had runs of 61, 63 and 67 yards, plus a 75-yard pass. Nick Steriti, no sprinter he, rumbled for 201 yards and two scores on 21 carries. Making only his second college start, Andy Vailas passed for 336 yards and five touchdowns.
"When you blitz, if you're not gap responsible, you're gonna get gashed," Wilder said.
"We went away from the basics, missed a lot of tackles," linebacker Craig Wilkins said. "If we expect to win every week, we can't allow people to put up these kind of numbers. Some weeks Taylor's arm might be tired. He won't be able to hold us up every week."
Wilkins produced ODU's key stop, recovering a botched shotgun snap at the Monarchs' 2-yard-line late in the third quarter. If the Wildcats punch it in there, they lead 54-31 — the same margin they enjoyed early in the period at 47-24.
Heinicke promptly drove ODU 98 yards for a touchdown, part of a mind-bending second half that saw the Monarchs march 90, 98, 81, 75, 89 and 74 yards on successive possessions.
It was the nuttiest game I've witnessed in 30-plus years, and Wilder concurred.
"We normally work them out on Sunday," Wilder said of his players, "but they're not going to have a workout tomorrow."
The workout can wait. So can the humbling.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun