cemented its spot in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, coming from behind to defeat
38-28 Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium.
The Monarchs (10-1, 7-1 CAA) finished with the best record in the conference, but are ineligible for the title and automatic playoff berth as an outgoing member.
"We're the champs," ODU coach
said, smiling and raising his arms. "We win. All due respect to the league. I understand that they had to do what they had to do. We understand that, but from our standpoint, we were playing to win the league championship. That was critical to us."
Wilder and the staff informed the players earlier in the day that they could tune into the
"We wanted that," Wilder said. "These kids wanted that badly. They wanted to be champions, and it was exciting. We're very excited to have that unofficial title."
The FCS playoff field will be announced Sunday afternoon. ODU is all but assured an at-large berth in the 20-team field and is likely to be awarded a bye and at least one home game.
Four teams officially tied for the conference title -- Richmond,
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke led a second-half offensive surge, and the Monarchs made critical defensive stops against a JMU offense that shredded them in the first half.
Heinicke completed 32 of 45 passes for 357 yards and four touchdowns, all of which came in the second half as ODU erased a 21-10 halftime deficit.
JMU (7-4, 5-3 CAA) quarterback Justin Thorpe was superb for the Dukes in the first 2 1/2 quarters, running and passing for four touchdowns as the Dukes took a 28-17 lead.
Thorpe was stopped on 4th-and-inches at the ODU 9 with 7:09 remaining, and was sacked on 4th-and-12 with 1:25 left as the Dukes tried to climb back from the 10-point deficit.
The Monarchs' defense tightened considerably in the second half, permitting only 94 yards after getting burned for 217 yards in the first half. Thorpe accounted for 230 yards, but just 38 in the second half.
"They were hurting us with a lot of specialty plays," Wilder said, referring to plays on which action started in one direction, but Thorpe and others would run or throw to the opposite side of the field.
"We regrouped at halftime, talked about those plays and didn't get hurt with any of those plays in the second half," Wilder said. "That was the biggest difference. We needed to play some responsible football. I felt like we were a very responsible defense in the second half."
Heinicke and the passing game, meanwhile, found some traction after halftime. The sophomore directed three touchdown drives in a seven-minute span of the third and fourth quarters, turning a 28-17 deficit into a 38-28 lead.
He hit Antonio Vaughan with a 59-yard touchdown pass with 4:34 remaining in the third quarter. Four minutes later, he connected with Larry Pinkard on a 17-yard scoring pass. He hit Nick Mayers in the right corner of the end zone early in the fourth quarter to complete the scoring.
After a tipped-pass interception midway through the third quarter that resulted in JMU's final touchdown, Heinicke completed his next 12 passes for 158 yards and three touchdowns. During a nearly 15-minute span of the second half, he was 16 of 17 for 199 yards and all four touchdowns.
ODU's offensive improvement in the second half: "Everything, from blocking, throwing catching," Heinicke said. "We had some pretty big drops in the first half, some pretty big missed blocking assignments and I made some bad reads in the first half.
"We came out in the second half and the coaches cut down the offense. A lot of quick passes. We were just taking what they give us -- 5-yard hitches, slants. That's what we did. When they started picking up, we tried to go deep and it worked out pretty well for us."
Heinicke finished the regular season with 4,158 yards passing, with 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.