William and Mary 24, Maine 21
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, all seemed lost for No. 8 William and Mary (3-1, 1-1 CAA). The College trailed Maine 14-3, the defense looked sluggish and senior quarterback Mike Callahan was sidelined earlier in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.
However, a renewed intensity on defense and an outstanding performance from junior backup quarterback Mike Paulus led the Tribe to a wild, 21-point comeback during the fourth quarter that allowed them to stun the Black Bears 24-21 in Orono, Maine Saturday. Paulus connected with senior wideout Chase Hill for a 21-yard game winning strike with 20 seconds remaining in the game.
“The best thing about it was that we kept plugging away and kept doing it and making some plays,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “Mike [Paulus] had to step in there for Callahan because Callahan hurt his shoulder. I don’t know how bad it is, but he didn’t want to come out, but we got him out and Mike did a nice job.”
Paulus, who transferred from North Carolina last year and failed to beat out Callahan for the starting job, showed poise and precision in relief against the Black Bears. Paulus passed for 104 yards and a touchdown in a little under a quarter of work.
The junior provided a much needed spark to a College offense that, under Callahan’s command, looked sluggish for the majority of the game. Paulus piloted two successful touchdown drives during the fourth quarter, setting up senior tailback Courtland Marriner’s 10-yard touchdown romp with 7 minutes and 9 seconds remaining, and connecting with Hill for the game-clinching score.
Due to his impressive performance and Callahan’s injury, some will inevitably speculate about the College’s quarterback situation while heading into next weekend’s crucial matchup against No. 1 Villianova. Callahan had similar numbers to Paulus’, completing 9-of-17 passes for 101 yards and an interception in three quarters under center.
“We protected a little better, gave him a little more time — I think that was a big factor — because we had to get some routes down the field,” Laycock said. “I think that was it because we weren’t running the ball much because of the time left in the game and the score, we needed to move it on down the field because the field position wasn’t that great. But I thought [Paulus] did well.”
While the passing game performed well, the College’s rushing attack left something to be desired. The Black Bears held the Tribe’s three-pronged rushing attack of junior Jonathan Grimes, senior Terrence Riggins and Marriner to combine for just 75 yards on the ground. Marriner was the Tribe’s leading rusher, amassing 36 yards on 10 carries.
“Jon Grimes played very, very little,” Laycock said. “He was pretty banged up from last week and just wasn’t able to go, so again, that’s the nature of the game.”
The story of the College’s defense was a tale of two halves. The Tribe allowed Maine quarterback Warren Smith to guide two touchdown drives in the first half, giving the Black Bears a 14-3 halftime advantage. After the intermission, the College showed renewed resolve, slowing the Black Bears on several key drives.
Sophomore linebacker Dante Cook, who is filling in for Jake Trantin, continued his strong play, and his 50-yard interception return for a touchdown during the fourth quarter helped the College close the scoring gap. Cook and sophomore safety Brian Thompson both led the College with 12 tackles apiece.
The Tribe yielded 365 yards of total offense to Maine, with 108 of those yards coming on the ground. Smith completed 29-of-40 passes for 257 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Maine tailback Pushuan Brown carried the load for the Black Bears, amassing 104 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries.
Although Laycock would have liked to have seen a more consistent game from his team, we were impressed by the end result.
“I thought our guys were really poised,” Laycock said. “The game could have gone the other way, so I thought our guys played well. We kept playing when we had adversity, and when we had good things happening, we played well … Our offense just came right back. They didn’t miss a beat. It was a great experience for our guys.”
The College will look to extend its conference winning streak to two games next week as it plays against top ranked Villanova in Williamsburg.