NORFOLK, Va. — Old Dominion could not stop Citadel quarterback Ben Dupree on Saturday night — until the Monarchs absolutely had to.
ODU cornerback Reggie Owens knocked Dupree out of bounds just short of the goal line on a 2-point conversion, preserving a 59-58 win for the heavily favored Monarchs before a sellout crowd of 20,118 at Ballard Stadium.
Dupree’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Jake Stenson pulled the Bulldogs to within a point with 1:39 left. The Citadel lined up for the tying extra point before coach Kevin Higgins called timeout and decided to go for the win with a 2-point try.
On an option play to the left, Dupree looked as if he would beat the Monarchs’ defense to the pylon. But ODU strung out the play long enough for Owens to make the stop — his only tackle of the game.
“I thought I was going to get there,” said Dupree, who rushed for a school-record five touchdowns. “I had leverage on the (first) guy, and I think I beat him to the corner. But then another guy stepped up. I tried to lower my shoulder, but I know I didn’t get in.”
Higgins said the decision to go for two was “an easy call.”
“On the road, our defense was struggling to stop them and we were moving the ball effectively,” he said. “We missed it by 6 inches.”
On a night when the teams combined for 117 points and 1,108 yards, both coaches essentially gave up on stopping the other’s offense. That’s why Higgins went for two, and that’s why ODU coach Bobby Wilder called for two straight onside kicks in the third quarter. ODU recovered both, leading to 10 points, including a 52-yard field goal by Jarod Brown — the difference in the Monarchs improving to 2-2 and The Citadel falling to 1-3.
“The object of doing that was to try and steal possessions, as if your defense had a stop,” Wilder said of his gambles. “We did the play twice in a row, and that really turned the game.”
Next season, ODU is moving up to FBS Conference USA, where the Monarchs must hope nobody runs the triple option.
Citadel fullback Darien Robinson gashed the ODU’s tissue-soft defense for a career-high 227 yards and two touchdowns, the first 200-yard game for a Bulldog since 2006. Dupree added 149 yards on 24 tries, including TD runs of 13, 17, 33, 2 and 19 yards.
The senior QB also hit 5 of 8 passes for 115 yards, including a 52-yarder to Vinny Miller and the 23-yard TD pass to Stenson, who made a twisting grab on a back-shoulder throw.
“The one thing we can take from this game is a little bit of confidence,” said Dupree, who played the entire game for the second week in a row. “We moved the ball at will against an (FBS) team. Granted, they are not good against the option, but they are bigger than everyone in our league.”
The Citadel’s defense did not fare as well against ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who hit 35 of 42 passes for 363 yards and three TDs, including a 70-yard TD pass to Larry Pinkard for a 59-52 lead with 3:36 left.
“They wanted to win,” Heinicke said of the Bulldogs. “We are a Conference USA team now, and it would have been huge for them to beat a Conference USA team. So they were coming all game and they were coming hard.”
Colby Goodwyn ran for 94 yards and two scores as ODU often snapped the ball with 20 seconds left on the play clock.
“We practiced at a high tempo all week so we could keep up with them,” said cornerback Sadath Jean-Pierre. “It was like a chess game, going toe-to-toe with them. But there were a few times they caught the defense a little bit off balance.”
The Bulldogs did not sack Heinicke once and had only three hurries in 42 pass attempts.
“Our offense was spectacular tonight,” said Citadel defensive tackle Derek Douglas. “They did everything they could to put us in a position to win. Defensively, we needed to step up at times and I think we failed a little bit there.”
The Bulldogs gave ODU extra chances with two lost fumbles and the onside kicks (though the Monarchs were offside and touched the ball too soon on the first one). The Citadel’s Walker Smith blocked a punt to set up one TD, but the Bulldogs’ defense could not force a turnover.
“We knew if we were going to win this game, it was going to be a wild affair,” Higgins said.
It was wild, but not quite wild enough for the Bulldogs.
The 117 combined points were the most in Citadel history ... The Bulldogs’ 58 points were their most ever in a loss ... Darien Robinson’s 227 yards were the most for a Bulldog since Gene Brown ran for 286 yards against VMI in the 1988 Oyster Bowl on the same field, Ballard Stadium ... Ben Dupree now stands fifth in school history with 26 touchdowns ... Robinson is now sixth in school history in rushing with 2,333 yards.