The feeling came slowly. William and Mary steadily built a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter, and with every passing minute it seemed more and more possible that the Tribe could pull off a monumental upset against FBS powerhouse North Carolina on homecoming Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C.
But just as visions of last year’s dramatic 26-14 upset of Virginia began to resurface, a 67-yard touchdown scamper by North Carolina tailback Johnny White with 5:27 left in the fourth quarter demolished all hopes of an upset and allowed the Tar Heels to dispense a heartbreaking 21-17 loss to the Tribe.
“I thought we had a great effort, we played very hard,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “It was a tough situation where we had a lot of guys in and out of the lineup and a lot of guys banged up and that type of thing. All that considered, I thought we gave a really good effort.”
The loss brings the College’s record to 6-2, while North Carolina improves to 5-3.
While the College fought valiantly against a skilled opponent, the loss may have come at a high price. The Tribe sustained a multitude of injuries to several of its most talented players. Junior tailback Jonathan Grimes was pulled from the game in the second quarter after sustaining a head injury on a kickoff return, while senior starting quarterback Mike Callahan exited the game early in the first quarter after re-aggravating a shoulder injury.
Callahan’s backup, junior quarterback Michael Paulus, filled in and provided a major spark for the College offense. Paulus, who transferred from North Carolina last year, made the most of his return trip to Chapel Hill, as he connected with senior wideout Chase Hill twice in the first half to provide the Tribe with a 14-7 lead going into the half.
“I thought Mike Paulus, [who stepped in there] after Mike Callahan got hurt, played extremely well,” Laycock said.
After lighting up the Tar Heel defense in the first half, North Carolina appeared to adjust its defensive gameplan in the second half. UNC played a more coverage-centered type of defense in the second half, which severely limited the College’s offense in the final two periods.
Paulus finished by completing 24 of 35 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
After White’s touchdown, the College received the ball with 1:09 left to play, and Paulus began to drive the Tribe back down the field. On 2nd down and 15 from the William and Mary 40 yard-line, Paulus dropped back to pass, and was promptly swarmed by the North Carolina defense, and was knocked out of the game.
Laycock was unaware of the extent of Paulus’ injury, which, combined with Callahan’s earlier injury, puts the College’s quarterback situation in serious peril for next week’s clash against New Hampshire.
Defensively, the Tribe played well in the first half and appeared to outplay the UNC offense. The College held North Carolina to 141 yards in the first half, and quarterback T.J. Yates managed to complete just 8 of his 12 passes for 76 yards and an interception.
But just as the Tar Heel defense regrouped after halftime, the UNC offense displayed a similar resiliency. North Carolina gained 172 yards of offense in the fourth quarter alone, with 99 of those yards coming on the ground.
“Defensively, we really competed, we made things happen and we lined up against them and they popped that one short yardage play and they got us, but other than that I thought we had a chance to win that thing going into the fourth quarter,” Laycock said.
White got off to a slow start in the opening quarter, but steadily gained steam, and eventually wore down the College defense in the final quarter. White finished with 164 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
Overall, the College allowed 421 yards of total offense to North Carolina, 183 on the ground and 238 through the air. The Tribe, meanwhile, fought valiantly against a tough opponent, but managed just 51 rushing yards and 235 passing yards for a total of 286.
“We’re disappointed,” Laycock said. “We had a chance to win going into the fourth quarter. It doesn’t make it any easier, but I don’t think it takes anything away from our players’ effort and their performance. I really think we made a lot of good efforts.”