BUENA VISTA, Va. — Southern Virginia University football shined in its Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) debut with a victory over Hampden-Sydney (29-17) behind running back Akiva Wedge's career-high three touchdowns and a new program record-237 rushing yards.
"I am excited we were able to demonstrate our talent in our new conference," said Mulitalo. "We as a team look to produce a product that is better than our preseason rankings and today was a good first step."
Southern Virginia's 2-0 start is the best in program history.
"Anytime you get a chance to face adversity, you hope to learn and overcome," said Head Coach Ed Mulitalo. "Our coaching staff and players did a great job addressing our mistakes throughout the game and then trusted in each other to come out on top."
The Knights (2-0, 1-0) forced a Tigers (1-2, 0-1) turnover-on-downs on their first possession. Four plays later, the Southern Virginia offense wasted no time scoring when senior Akiva Wedge busted through the middle of the line for his first score of the day on a 41-yard touchdown to give the Knights a 7-0 advantage (following a successful PAT by Jackson Hatch).
Hampden-Sydney marched deep into Knight territory late in the first quarter when the Knights made their first critical defensive stop of the game. The Tigers dropped back to pass when freshman defensive lineman Aiden Ancog recorded an interception to kill the momentum and give the ball back to the Knights.
Following an unsuccessful Southern Virginia drive, the Tigers scored in the second quarter on a three-yard touchdown pass from Clay Vick to Dillon Costello, but after a failed two-point conversion the Knights remained in the lead 7-6. Minutes later Hampden-Sydney secured their first lead of the game when running back Kaleb Smith found the end zone on the ground from four yards out. Following a successful two-point conversion the Tigers led the Knights 14-7.
Hampden-Sydney once more extended their lead in the closing seconds of the first half as Rhett Andersen connected on a 34-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 17-7 advantage.
"In the first half, we had made mistakes and had been unable to respond," added Mulitalo. "This made it into a long first half, but we knew our team has poise and grit. We needed to rely on those to get back into the game. "
After both teams were held scoreless in the third quarter, the Knights entered the fourth quarter trailing the Tigers 17-7 with the ball on the opposing team's 37-yard line. Davis Pinkston started the quarter by completing a 14-yard pass to Wedge, placing the Knights just outside the red zone. The next play Pinkston threw a strike to the center of the field to an outstretched Kevin Adams for a 23-yard touchdown to put Southern Virginia within three (17-14).
The Tigers looked to make the game two possessions when Jacob Taloa picked off the Tiger's Vick at the Southern Virginia 36.
After each team had a pair of possessions that resulted in punts, the Knights started its drive at their 25-yard line. One play was all the Knights needed as Wedge darted past the Tiger defenders for a 75-yard score to reclaim the Knights first lead since the first quarter, 21-17 (following a successful PAT by Hatch).
The Knights defense continued to cause problems for the Tigers offense on their next possession as Albert Green IV collected his first interception of the 2019 season. The Knights offense could not convert on the opportunity after a forced punt.
Southern Virginia forced Hampden-Sydney to a quick three-and-out giving the ball back to the Knights at their own 47-yard line. Wedge then added to his historic night with one last touchdown, this time on a hand-off up the middle while splitting defenders for 53 yards. A successful two-point conversion on a Neil Davis rush pushed the Knights lead to 29-17 with 4:46 remaining in the game.
The Tigers attempted a last-chance effort to close the deficit, but the Knights defense answered the challenge. The Knights stopped the Tigers creating a 4th and goal when Green IV picked off Vick for the second time and Southern Virginia's fifth interception of the game earning the 29-17 victory.
In the second half, the Knights offense outscored the Tigers 22-0 while the defense completed the shutout.
"Great teams impose their will," said Mulitalo. "Our defense chose to do that today with five interceptions. Those big plays are key in changing the flow of the game and also help our offense get established."
Wedge's 237 rushing yards and 271 all-purpose yards break his previous record set last season when he ran for 184 yards against William Patterson.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to have the success I had today," said Wedge. "The offensive line was the reason I found success. I am grateful for the opportunity to go out and play my best each down. Right now, I look forward to getting back to the drawing board and our next game."
"Akiva is an All-Conference running back in any conference," said Mulitalo. "We want to showcase him in our offense. His leadership and example help set the tone for the offense today."
On offense for the Knights, Pinkston threw for 167 yards with a touchdown. Josh Newman led the team in receiving with 54 yards on two receptions.
On the defensive side of the ball, freshman Jacob Taloa recorded 15 total tackles, four tackles for a loss and an interception. Leka Apodaca reached double-figures with ten tackles. Green IV's led the team with a pair of interceptions to go with four tackles. Senior Neil Davis picked up an interception to add with his seven tackles. Davis's interception gives him a dozen in his career.
"We want to enjoy this the next 48 hours," said Mulitalo. "Then when Monday comes we are back at 0-0. I look forward to this next week and focusing on progressing for Saturday. "
Southern Virginia will now prepare for their first road game of the season next week as they will face Bridgewater College on Sept. 28 at 2 p.m.