As its offense sputtered and Georgia State turned its first two possessions into points, it looked as if the Old Dominion Monarchs weren't going to attend to their own homecoming party.
Fortunately for the Foreman Field crowd of 19,782, the Monarchs arrived fashionably late.
Despite falling into a 6-point deficit as its offense mustered only 48 total yards through the game's first 19 minutes, ODU mounted four consecutive scoring drives that made the early swoon a distant memory as it defeated the Panthers 34-20 on Saturday.
The win puts the Monarchs back over .500 (4-3) and gives them their second victory in five home games this season.
"This was a very imporant win," ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. "I don't want to put too much emphasis on any one game, but everybody in our program had a clear understanding of the importance of this football game."
Added ODU quarterback Thomas DeMarco: "We were obviously disappointed with our 3-3 effort. We hung with some teams, but we looked at this game and said, 'Hey, we have to get back on the winning track.'"
Wilder credited DeMarco with his finest mental performance as ODU's quarterback, citing his selectiveness as deep targets like Reid Evans and Prentice Gill were largely suffocated by deep coverage.
Georgia State's commitment to that strategy opened up underneath pass routes and interior running lanes for the Monarchs.
ODU compiled 229 rushing yards and 152 more through the air with the lion's share coming on short passes across the middle to Marquel Thomas (5 catches, 48 yards, TD) and Monty Smalley, who set a school record with 9 receptions (61 yards).
Mario Crawford led ODU's ground game with 96 yards and a touchdown, followed by freshman Colby Goodwin, a Phoebus graduate (72 yards, TD).
Georgia State jumped on the Monarchs early with two first-quarter field goals while ODU struggled to find an offensive rhythm.
Georgia State drove to the ODU 2-yard line on its first possession, but came away with only a 21-yard Iain Vance field goal as running back Rosevelt Watson was thrice stifled by ODU's defensive line. Vance added a 34-yard field goal with 2:32 left in the first as Georgia State's second possession stalled at the ODU 17.
Meanwhile, the Monarchs punted on its first four possessions -- going 3-and-out three times -- before finally finding the end zone on a 6-yard run from Crawford that gave ODU its indefinite lead at 7-6 with 7:03 left in the second quarter.
The Monarchs ended their following drive with DeMarco hitting Thomas across the middle for an 18-yard touchdown connection to make it 14-6 with 2:34 left in the half.
On the back-to-back scoring drives, DeMarco connected with either Smalley or Thomas across the middle five times while Crawford and Goodwin teamed up for eight runs through the Panthers' defensive front.
"Personally, I don't really care how we win," DeMarco said. "If that means I have to hand it off to Mario, hand it off to Colby, hand it off to D.D. (Williams) or throw it to Monty for four yards and have him run it, I'm just excited that we're moving down the field."
ODU's well-balanced offense was greatly aided by Georgia State's inability to secure the ball. The Monarchs turned all four Panthers' fumbles into points, transforming the one-touchdown game into a blowout.
Georgia States' first blunder came when ODU's Fred Credle forced Danny Williams to fumble a 13-yard reception from quarterback Drew Little at the ODU 46-yard line with 1:46 left in the first half.
The ensuing Monarchs drive resulted in a 44-yard Jarod Brown (Grafton High) field goal, giving ODU a 17-6 lead at the half.
On the first drive of the third quarter, the Panthers' Parris Lee fumbled another completion from Little at the ODU 29-yard line that staged an ODU drive capped by a 23-yard touchdown run from Goodwin with 7:57 left in the third.
Just four minutes later, Albert Wilson muffed a Jonathan Plisco (Woodside High) punt on which Alex Arain pounced at the Georgia State 9-yard line. Though ODU failed to reach the endzone, Brown added his second field goal to make it 27-6.
The following Panthers possession ended on its second play when their fourth and final fumble left the hands of Sam Buckhalter at the Georgia State 29-yard line. Five plays later, DeMarco rushed into the endzone to complete ODU's onslaught at 34-6 with 13 seconds left in the third.
"The four fumbles are inexplicable from people that are very reliable with the football and simply coughed it up," Panthers coach Bill Curry said. "When you have four turnovers and nine turnovers and nine penalties against a good football team, you're going to get thrashed."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times