As Delaware kicker Mike Perry lined up a 42-yard game winning field goal attempt with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, all seemed lost for No. 4 William and Mary.
An outstanding defensive performance, an inspiring relief performance by senior quarterback Mike Callahan and the boundless energy of a homecoming sellout crowd of 12,259 at Zable Stadium all seemed primed to fade away, erased by a heartbreaking late field goal by Delaware.
But he missed it.
As Perry’s game winning try sailed wide left, the Tribe sidelines erupted in celebration as the squad held on to knock off No. 2 Delaware, 17-16, in a fourth quarter thriller engineered by Callahan and several key defensive saves.
“That was a heck of a game,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “Those were two good teams going at each other every snap on defense, offense and special teams. It was a heck of a matchup. It was intense out there, both teams were playing very hard.”
The victory moves the Tribe into a first-place tie with Delaware atop the conference with a 4-1 record in the CAA and a 6-1 record overall. Delaware is now 4-1 in the conference and 7-1 overall after suffering its first loss of the season.
While the offense ultimately came through in the end for the College, the defense kept the team in the game with several crucial saves throughout the game. The Tribe had three goal line stands, holding the Blue Hens to two field goals in three red zone chances.
“Those are the type of opportunities Coach Shoop talks about every day,” sophomore linebacker Dante Cook said. “Being a championship defense, with your back up against the wall and stand up there and fight. Until they cross the goal line, until they score, we know we have a chance to stop them.”
The College was challenged early and often by a high-powered Blue Hen offense led by NFL prospect quarterback Pat Devlin, but refused to falter. With the exception of allowing two quick Delaware scores late in the second half, the Tribe got consistent pressure on Devlin, sacking him 5 times.
Two of those sacks were recorded by Cook, including one crucial sack that caused Devlin to incur an intentional grounding penalty late in the fourth quarter, pushing Delaware out of field goal range.
“I was extremely pleased with the play of our defense, especially the two goal line stands,” Laycock said. “To do that against the No. 2 team in the nation is something. That really speaks strongly to our defensive players and our defensive coaches.
Overall, the Tribe gave up 293 passing yards and 59 rushing yards to the Blue Hens, as Devlin completed 23 of his 34 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown.
Offensively, the College and junior starting quarterback Mike Paulus had several missed opportunities in the first half. Although his completion percentage is skewed by a high number of drops by Tribe receivers in the first half, Paulus missed several open throws and was benched in favor of Callahan in the third quarter.
“Offensively, I thought there in the second half that we needed to get in a rhythm and we needed a spark and that’s why I decided to go with Callahan, and I thought he played exceptionally well,” Laycock said. “He gave us great leadership. I’m just very proud that our players hung in there and kept playing.”
After handing the ball off on his first two snaps under center, Callahan provided an immediate spark by hitting junior wideout D.J. Mangas for a 6-yard first down strike.
From there, Callahan and the offense never looked back, as the senior found junior tight end Alex Gottlieb in the corner of the end zone for a 15 yard touchdown score to end the drive and cut the Delaware lead to 13-10. Callahan completed 7 of 10 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown.
Callahan, who was named the starter earlier this season, made his first appearance in a game after getting knocked out in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury in the Tribe’s win against Maine.
After the game, Laycock acknowledged that despite Paulus’ impressive performances in his three starts, Callahan will now retain his starting job beginning next week against North Carolina.
Despite Callahan’s performance, the highest passer rating in the game belonged to junior tailback Jonathan Grimes, whose 6 yard touchdown strike to senior wideout Chase Hill in the fourth quarter stunned Delaware and put the College on top for good.
“I just wanted to make sure I got those feet in,” Hill said. “I wasn’t quite sure where I was. All the defenders had their eyes on Grimes, and I was just in the back in the end zone.”
In addition to his first career touchdown pass, Grimes once again anchored a steady Tribe rushing attack. Grimes carried the ball 21 times for 77 yards while senior tailback Courtland Marriner also made an impact, gaining 28 yards on six carries.
Overall, the College believes it showed poise and grit in Saturday’s win, and was pleased with its performance.
“Its definitely a huge win,” Grimes said. “It’s a huge win for the school, for the team. You’ve got to come out and play every time in this conference. This was a good Delaware team coming down here, and I’m glad everybody stepped up.”
After downing the No. 2 team in the country, the College will likely face its stiffest test of the season next week when it travels to Chapel Hill, N.C. to take on a powerful FBS program in North Carolina.