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ODU keeps raising expectations

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

West Long Branch, NJ (Sports Network) - What Hofstra transfer Deron Mayo hasn't told his Old Dominion teammates about what each week will be like after their program joins CAA Football next season, he shows them.

On Saturday, Monmouth running back Bobby Giles was seemingly off to the end zone with a screen pass and a clear field along the ODU sideline. Yet here came Mayo, a lightning-quick defensive end, past the ODU linebackers and defensive backs to drag Giles down from behind after 53 yards to prevent a touchdown.

"Just can't give up on the play," Mayo explained afterward.

That's the kind of effort ODU will need regularly in the CAA - the top conference in the Football Championship Subdivision. ODU's second-year program is in its second year as an independent and is doing quite nicely considering a 35-21 win at Monmouth made the Monarchs a combined 11-4 in their short existence.

But the Monarchs (2-2) will need a higher level of play. They will gladly take quarterback Thomas DeMarco passing for a career-high 407 yards as well as four touchdowns - which picked apart Monmouth - but they also know they'll need more of the sixth sense that Mayo and defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron, who also transferred to ODU after CAA program Hofstra dropped football following the 2009 season, have imparted on their teammates.

ODU head coach Bobby Wilder points out that Mayo and Cameron have "brought an attitude and a tempo to our football team that we clearly did not have last year. And I'm talking about a passion for playing, I'm talking about a passion for practice."

Thomas DeMarco passed for a career-high 407 yards as well as four touchdowns.
The high level of practice that led up to ODU facing CAA power William & Mary last Saturday was something the Monarchs will need on a regular basis. Their first-ever game against CAA opposition nearly ended with an upset, as William & Mary, which entered the season ranked fourth nationally, had to rally in the fourth quarter for a 21-17 win at ODU's packed Foreman Field.

"I told them (teammates), 'Once we get in the CAA, every game is a William & Mary game, every game in the CAA is a potential playoff game,'" said Mayo, ODU's leading tackler who is completing his final year of eligibility. Old pal Cameron is a redshirt junior.

The football-rich Norfolk, Va., area has embraced ODU's program, with the Monarchs playing to sellouts of nearly 20,000 in all nine home games the last two seasons. Still, it was imperative for the Monarchs to toughen up their schedule this year after they went 9-2 last year to set a record for wins by a first-year FCS program.

With mostly underclassmen on its roster, ODU will have a veteran roster for its inaugural season in the CAA. The Monarchs will play eight conference games (they won't play Maine and New Hampshire) as well as non-conference home games against Campbell and Hampton and a road game at Georgia State, which is in its first season of play this year and will follow the Monarchs into the CAA in 2012.

"They're going to be right at home in that league," Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan said. "They've got four years invested in it now (ODU announced in May 2006 that it would begin play in 2009), they've got a terrific coaching staff and some excellent players. I don't see them having any problems at all."

Monmouth handed ODU its first-ever loss a year ago, 31-28 in Norfolk. But the Hawks (0-3) no longer can ride All-Northeast Conference running back Dave Sinisi, who rushed for 216 yards on 41 carries - both career highs - in the win. On Saturday, the Hawks' injury-riddled secondary failed to match the speed of ODU's receivers, who ran slants and consistently broke into open space to make themselves targets for DeMarco.

A lack of space might explain why the Monarchs failed to score touchdowns on two first-half possessions that moved within Monmouth's five-yard line. Although Jarod Brown kicked a short field goal each time, the Monarchs fell behind 7-6.

But give the ODU receivers a bigger field and it was no match. DeMarco threw for three touchdowns in succession over the final seven minutes of the first half. The redshirt sophomore spread the wealth, too, throwing for a 22-yard touchdown to Reid Evans and then a 21-yarder to Prentice Gill and a 4-yarder to Chris Lovitt, making it 27-7 ODU at halftime.

DeMarco threw for 241 yards in the second quarter alone, and with 321 in the first half, he came within 13 of matching his previous school record for a game (334). If Callahan was asking for a Jack Daniels in the Monmouth locker room, he didn't mean the Hawks' punter who entered the game leading the FCS in punting average.

DeMarco's final touchdown pass came on a 48-yard bomb to Gill midway through the fourth quarter. Gill, a junior-college transfer, set the ODU single-game record with 154 receiving yards on six receptions.

"Career-game number-wise, which is very exciting to see, but he can play much better than he played today," Wilder said about DeMarco, who completed 28 of 47 passes, throwing one interception. "And in terms of Gill, that's what we've been waiting to see."

"I feel like we had a great couple quarters on offense. I don't think we've played four yet," said DeMarco, who has thrown for 11 touchdowns and rushed for two more in four games, but is behind the pace of last year's 38 total touchdowns (21 passing and 17 rushing). "It's a good thing to take home. It's always a lot more fun after a win to be like, 'All right, we won, but we have some more things to work on.'"

Not surprisingly, ODU eased up in the second half. Monmouth quarterback Kyle Frazier added a five-yard touchdown run to his 15-yard TD pass to Chris Hogan in the first quarter, then backup QB Andrew Mandeville threw a 10-yarder to Nick Romero to close out the scoring.

On ODU's second drive of the game, DeMarco was forced out of the game for one play after getting the wind knocked out of him on a keeper in Monmouth territory. "Got the first down, which is the important part," he said after the game.

Redshirt sophomore Tommy Reamon replaced DeMarco for the one play instead of highly touted backup Dominique Blackman, who has yet to play this season. The Monarchs seem destined to make this a redshirt year for the sophomore Blackman and give him three more seasons after this one. When the Monarchs join the CAA, they could use a Wildcat look with the left-handed Blackman getting snaps behind, if not alongside, DeMarco.

The possibilities appear endless. And now that the Monarchs have a taste of the CAA, they hope their potential for success is, too.

"I've been saying to our players all week that we raised the bar as a program in terms of our expectations for ourselves," Wilder said. "Our players didn't realize the level they could play at, and that's what we learned against William & Mary."

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