It's difficult to imagine one of the wildest, most significant plays of the 2011 football season not brought up as ODU and Towson prepare for Saturday's 7 p.m. battle at Unitas Stadium in suburban Baltimore.
The Tigers came off the mat last season to beat ODU 39-35 at Foreman Field, improbably converting a 4th-and-29 play into Tom Ryan's 63-yard touchdown catch-and-run for the winning points with time ticking down.
"I haven't addressed that with our players, and I won't," Wilder said earlier this week. "That game's a full year ago, that game's kind of in the rear-view mirror. They're well aware of it and I'm sure they'll hear a lot about it this week."
Ambrose, Towson's coach, told the campus newspaper, "I'm almost 1,000 percent sure that 4th-and-29 or some comment is posted in the locker room somewhere. They haven't forgotten."
The play culminated Towson's comeback from an 11-point deficit with 3 1/2 minutes remaining. Trailing 35-24, the Tigers scored and tacked on a two-point conversion to cut the lead to three. They recovered a perfectly executed onside kick, giving themselves a chance to at least tie if they got close enough for a field goal.
But consecutive ODU sacks on second and third down put Towson in the fourth-down hole at its 37-yard line, prompting the Tigers to call a timeout with 1:20 left to draw up a play.
Quarterback Grant Enders rolled right and lofted a pass that Ryan caught among ODU defenders at about the Monarchs' 35. As Monarchs collided, Ryan sped down the sideline, dragging defensive back Paul Morant the final 10 yards as he tried to punch out the ball. Ryan crossed the goal line with 1:07 remaining, and the extra point gave Towson a four-point lead.
ODU still had one more possession, but quarterback Taylor Heinicke threw his only interception of the season, on a downfield heave.
"Yes, there is truth to the fact that we drew it up in the dirt," Ambrose said. "I give credit to the kids and their ability to execute that on a dime. In truth, the goal was to get the first down, it really wasn't to score a touchdown. I give Tom Ryan a ton of credit, because after all the pieces that had to work for that play to exist, he's the one that put the exclamation point on it. It was just a great play by a bunch of kids that wanted to win."
Towson went from there to win the CAA regular season title and the league's automatic playoff berth. ODU regrouped and won the next five games, including a first-round playoff matchup against city rival Norfolk State.
Time and circumstances, Wilder said, are the reasons he won't dwell on last year's game, or the Tigers' big play.
"This is really two completely different football teams right now," he said. "We're a different team than we were last year at this point, as is Towson. This game has different meaning right now. Last year, we went into preseason 10, they were preseason 11. Now this year, you look at the two teams, they're preseason 1, we're preseason 2. It just goes to show you how different both teams are, how much progress both teams have made."
Both teams are chasing CAA leader James Madison. Old Dominion (5-1, 2-1 CAA) comes off of its first loss, a 38-14 crunch job by Villanova, while Towson (3-3, 2-1 CAA) rebounded from a tough loss at JMU with a win last week versus Maine.
Despite the loss, ODU possesses the nation's No. 1 offense in scoring (49.2 ppg), passing (427.3 ypg) and total yards (603.5 ypg), with Heinicke the leader in total offense (464.8). Towson, meanwhile, has one of the nation's best defenses, allowing just 285.3 yards per game and 139 yards passing.
Ambrose's impressions of ODU thus far: "How about the word 'wow,' with a couple exclamation points behind it, a pause, and some more wow. Offensively, is there a more dynamic team in America? Is there a more dynamic quarterback in America? I give credit to Bobby and his kids and their staff and how hard they've worked to create this monster that is ODU football."
Wilder said that JMU and Towson appear to be the conference's most complete teams and puts the Monarchs a step behind, largely because of a defense that's surrendering 45 points and 551 yards per game in conference play. He is eager to see his team's bounceback after last week, which he said requires some soul-searching from his players, particularly the veterans.
"That's going to be a challenge because the team we're playing this week, they're in the same spot we are," he said. "They've got one loss in the league, and they've got the advantage. They're at home. They haven't lost at home. This is the defending league champion. Until somebody knocks them out of that seat, they're the best team in the league. All the odds are stacked against us. This is a major challenge."