David Washington couldn’t have dreamed of being in a tropical paradise for a bowl game this week after Old Dominion started the season with two losses in its first three games.
Washington, the Monarchs’ senior quarterback, left Raleigh, his hometown, on Sept. 17 after a 49-22 loss to N.C. State and he wasn’t sure which way the season would go.
“We had to figure out who we were as a team,” Washington said.
Eight wins in nine games later, ODU has done just that and with a big helping hand from Washington. In their third season as a Bowl Subdivision program, the Monarchs (9-3) are in the postseason for the first time. They face Eastern Michigan (7-5) on Friday (1 p.m., ESPN) in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Washington said. “We’re really excited about the trip and the game.”
The Monarchs wouldn’t be going anywhere without Washington, who threw for 2,648 yards with 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season.
“He just had an incredible season,” ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. “He put us on his back this year.”
The Monarchs went 7-1 in Conference USA, losing only to conference champion Western Kentucky on the road. Washington (6-3, 210 pounds) a fifth-year senior from Southeast Raleigh High, had his best game at Florida Atlantic on Nov. 19. He threw for 416 yards with five touchdowns.
But Wilder figured out long before his team went unbeaten in November that Washington was going to have a special senior season. In the N.C. State loss, Washington completed 16 of 26 passes for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns to receiver Zach Paschal.
“That might have been his best game,” Wilder said. “They have an unbelievable defensive front and we could not block them. He got hit 15 times in that game – 15!
“He didn’t have time to go through a progression but he found a way to make some plays.”
Washington’s performance against the Wolfpack this year was something of a mulligan after he had a difficult game in Norfolk last year against them. Washington was playing receiver to start the 2015 season, a position he had excelled at the year before, and dropped a pair of passes in a 38-14 loss to N.C. State.
“My emotions got the best of me in that game,” Washington said. “I just wanted to win, but I hurt my team. After that I figured out that no game is bigger than the next, and I just needed to calm down and play.”
Wilder recruited Washington to be a quarterback but with his size and athletic ability, he was able to help at receiver earlier in his career. In 2014, he caught 47 passes for 599 yards with four touchdowns.
He started the 2015 season at receiver and figured he was going to stay there, until Wilder turned to him for a spark against Charlotte on Oct. 17. He threw for four touchdowns in a 37-34 win over Charlotte.
He ended up starting four games at quarterback before a knee injury sidelined him at Southern Miss in the penultimate game of the season.
“We weren’t sure if he was going to make it back,” Wilder said. “We got into August and didn’t know if he was going to be OK.”
Turns out Wilder had nothing to worry about. Washington started all 12 games this season and only one other FBS quarterback, who started every game, has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio (Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell).
And now the Monarchs and Washington get to enjoy their reward in the Bahamas.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio