Football: Too close for comfort


William and Mary narrowly escaped a loss to New Haven Saturday night, making just enough key plays to pull out a 13-10 victory over the Division II Chargers. The Tribe improved to 2-1 on the season.

Two field goals from sophomore kicker Drake Kuhn and three interceptions by the Tribe’s defense made the difference, but the headline from Saturday is the brewing quarterback controversy.

Starting senior quarterback Mike Paulus was benched after a first half in which he went just two of six for seven yards and an interception. The teams went into the locker room knotted at three, but on the Tribe’s first possession in the second half, head coach Jimmye Laycock made the switch to sophomore Michael Graham, who led the College on a lead-taking touchdown drive to start the third quarter. After starting the season as third on the depth chart behind Paulus and sophomore Brent Caprio, Graham finished the game at six of 11 for 112 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

“Mike [Paulus] wasn’t doing very well and it’s just like anything, he isn’t doing very well, we’ll give somebody else a chance. He was making some mistakes with throws, he was making some mistakes with some of the calls out there, so it wasn’t his night. We went with Mike Graham,” Laycock said, adding that he didn’t know who would start when James Madison comes to Williamsburg in the team’s conference schedule opener next Saturday. “It’s too early to tell what we do on that right now. We have to evaluate this and see where we go next week.”

The College’s running game, on the other hand, pounded New Haven’s front line throughout the game, as the Tribe racked up a total of 156 yards on the ground. Senior half back Jonathan Grimes set a career-high in carries with 31 and ran for 129 yards to go along with his team-leading four catches, including a go-ahead touchdown grab in the third quarter.

“I don’t even know the number [of carries], but at the moment you’re just trying to do whatever you have to do to get a win,” Grimes said. “No matter how many times they give you the ball, whenever your number’s called, you got to make something happen.”

The Tribe dug itself an early hole, opening the game with the ball and promptly going three and out. On fourth down, Kuhn’s punt was blocked, setting the Chargers up on the College’s 30 yard line, but the defense answered the call — as it would throughout — and held New Haven’s offense, led by Louisville-transfer quarterback Ryan Osiecki, to just a field goal.

The College’s offensive struggles only continued as the first quarter wore on. After another punt on its second drive, Grimes started the team’s third possession with five consecutive runs, moving the ball from the Tribe’s 22 to New Haven’s 39 with ease. But when Paulus’ number was finally called, he erased the team’s progress, rolling out of the pocket on 2nd and 6 and hitting Charger linebacker Mike Gomes between the numbers for an interception.

Down 3-0 late in the second quarter, the defense came up big again. Junior corner back B.W. Webb made an acrobatic interception on a tipped Osiecki pass, giving the Tribe the ball on New Haven’s 35. After three Grimes rushes gave the team a first down, the junior broke off a big gainer, scampering 21 yards before being pushed out of bounds on the Chargers’ three. A false start penalty derailed the push for a touchdown, but Kuhn tied the game at 3 with a 21 yard field goal as the clock wound down on the first half.

Laycock was blunt about what needed to improve in the passing game.

“We got to block better, we got to protect better, we got to throw better, we got to catch better. Other than that, we’re pretty good,” he said.

When Graham came out to start the third quarter, the light came on for the team’s offense.
“I just remember [Graham] being very positive when he came in the huddle. He kind of motivated [the offense] before the play just like ‘let’s go, let’s get in.’” Grimes said. “I think he gained our confidence pretty fast pretty well.”

Graham made completions for gains of 15, six and 16, leading the team on a 10-play, 48 yard drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Graham to Grimes, putting the Tribe up 10-3.
“I was ready to go. I knew our offense needed a spark,” Graham said.

But New Haven answered in the fourth with an eight play, 80 yard drive ending with a 17-yard touchdown throw by quarterback Ryan Oseicki to receiver Demetrius Ellis-Washington to tie the game at 10.

With 8:17 left in the fourth, Graham made the offensive play of the game, hitting senior wide receiver D.J. Mangas up the seam for a gain of 56 to set the Tribe up for a 28 yard field goal from Kuhn to give the College a 13-10 lead with five minutes, 28 seconds left in the game.

“He just busted the coverage,” Graham said. “He was wide open and I just threw it to him.”

But New Haven looked like it was ready to at least tie the game up on its next possession. Chargers quarterback Ryan Oseicki threw complete to receiver Jason Thompson, who darted down to the Tribe’s 18 yard line for a gain of 39. On the ensuing third down, though, Mines picked off Osiecki’s throw at the goal line and ran it back to the College’s 35 yard line, all but sealing the win for the College.

“We knew it was a situation where they were going deep,” Mines said. “We studied film all week and coach told me to drop and get deep I got as deep as possible in my drop, I saw the ball and I just tried to make a play for my team.”

The College will have to find answers to the looming questions quickly, as the No. 12 JMU Dukes will be at Zable Saturday for a clash of two CAA rivals, but Laycock said the team is focusing on its own game, not its opponent.