One minute into the third quarter, things looked shaky for Old Dominion.
The Monarchs had committed three turnovers, half of their season total coming in. Quarterback David Washington, a model of efficiency all year, had just thrown a pick-six to put Florida International ahead.
But not only didn’t ODU panic, it quickly shifted to domination mode. Ray Lawry rushed for 126 of his 194 yards in the second half, and the Monarchs ended up cruising to a 42-28 win Saturday at Ballard Stadium.
The win at least kept ODU (9-3, 7-1) even with Western Kentucky in the loss column atop Conference USA’s East Division. The Hilltoppers played at Marshall on Saturday night.
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If WKU won, by virtue of the tiebreaker, it would host Louisiana Tech in the C-USA title game on Dec. 3. If WKU lost, Old Dominion would host the Bulldogs.
Old Dominion will learn its bowl destination this week. Conference USA’s six postseason agreements are with the Boca Raton Bowl, the Hawaii Bowl, the New Mexico Bowl, the Bahamas Bowl, the New Orleans Bowl and the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Lawry reached two milestones Saturday: He broke the school’s career record for rushing touchdowns with 38, and he went past 1,000 yards (1,122, to be exact) for the second consecutive season. Wide receiver Zach Pascal became ODU’s all-time leader in receptions with 231.
It was 14-14 at halftime, and the second half couldn’t have started much worse for the Monarchs. On the third play, Washington’s telegraphed pass in the flat to Travis Fulgham was intercepted by Panthers cornerback Isaiah Brown.
Forty-five yards later, FIU led 21-14 less than a minute into the third quarter.
If the Monarchs were rattled, they masked it well. With a six-play, 75-yard drive, ODU tied the score two minutes and eight seconds later. Lawry rushed for 60 yards on the possession, the final 2 coming on his second touchdown to tie it with 12:07 remaining in the quarter.
After FIU went three-and-out, Old Dominion regained the lead on a gamble by coach Bobby Wilder. On fourth-and-4 from the Panthers’ 18-yard line, Wilder didn’t hesitate in keeping his offense on the field.
Flushed out of the pocket, Washington threw a touchdown pass to Fulgham to put ODU back in front 28-21 with 5:22 left in the third.
FIU moved into ODU territory on its next possession, but Oshane Ximines’ sack on third down forced a 48-yard field-goal attempt by Austin Taylor that was short.
ODU then cushioned its lead with a 69-yard drive that was finished off by Jeremy Cox’s 6-yard touchdown run with 13:50 remaining. The key play on the drive was Zach Pascal’s 25-yard run on third-and-5.
The loss capped an eventful season for FIU, which fired Ron Turner after four games and elevated offensive coordinator Ron Cooper to interim head coach. The Panthers were 0-4 at the time but ended up winning four of their final eight games.