GREENVILLE — Old Dominion may not officially be a member of Conference USA yet, but it certainly looked the part on Saturday.
Playing against an FBS opponent for the first time in school history, the FCS Monarchs went point-for-point with C-USA members East Carolina in a battle of high-powered spread offenses. But record-setting performances quarterback Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy enabled the Pirates to avoid the upset and pull out a 52-38 win in both team’s season opener.
Hardy, a 2012 all-conference selection, kicked off his junior year right where he left off and tied his school record for receptions in a game by grabbing 16 passes for a career-high 191 yards.
Hardy set the receptions record last year during ECU’s 65-59 double OT win over Marshal in the regular season finale.
Carden threw for an ECU single-game record 447 yards, eclipsing his record of 439 set in the same win over Marshall.
Carden completed 46 of his 54 attempts and tied his previous record of five touchdown passes in a game to fend off Old Dominion.
ECU freshman wide receiver Davon Grayson made a stellar debut, catching four passes for 28 yards and three touchdowns.
The Monarchs were guided by FCS star junior quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who on Saturday proved he could compete on the Divison I level as the 2012 Walter Payton award winner threw for 370 yards on 39-52 passing.
The game was expected to be a shootout and lived up to is billing as Carden came out slinging from the opening possession, going 8-for-8 to lead East Carolina on a 10-play 75-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard slant to Danny Webster.
The Monarchs retaliated with a 65-yard march down the field that ended with a 27-yard field goal by Jarod Brown with 7:08 remaining in the first quarter.
Old Dominion (1-0) took a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter as Heinicke led his team on a 95-yard drive by completing all eight of his pass attempts, including a well placed 1-yard pass to Blair Roberts, who maneuvered past safety Damon Magazu to get open.
The Monarchs’ lead was short lived as Grayson snatched a 9-yard touchdown pass from Carden on a slant Pattern to put the Pirates up 14-10.
Old Dominion showed no signs of letting up, and on the ensuing possession reclaimed the lead when Heinicke delivered a perfect seem pass to Jakwail Bailey, who beat cornerback DaShaun Amos to the ball to pull in a 43-yard touchdown pass and take a 17-14 lead with 2:25 left in the half.
It would be the last time the Monarchs held the advantage as ECU raced 75 yards up the field to score on a 6-yard touchdown pass to Grayson as time expired.
Under first-year defensive coordinator Rick Smith, the Pirates’ new defense looked a lot like last year’s and struggled to get pressure on Heinicke.
However, the unit delivered on its first opportunity in the second half as linebacker Gabe Woullard stripped Heinicke, and the ball was recovered by Ty Holmes, who raced 26 yards for the second touchdown of his career.
The Pirates would hold on to the lead throughout the second half.