For 30 minutes Saturday in Raleigh, N.C., the College of William and Mary simply outplayed a stronger, faster and deeper ACC opponent.
The Tribe outgained North Carolina State University 103 to 79 in first half yardage, while holding the Wolfpack without a first down until late in the second quarter. However, a pair of costly turnovers doomed the Tribe to a 14-0 halftime deficit, one that would prove decisive as the College fell 34-24 in their 2008 season opener.
“I thought we played hard. I thought we went down there and competed very well,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “[But] we uncharacteristically made some mistakes on turnovers which you can’t do against a team like that.”
The Wolfpack converted four Tribe turnovers into 17 points, as the College generously provided a cushion for N.C. State that would prove too much for the Tribe to overcome.
A failed exchange on a pitch between true freshman running back Jonathan Grimes and senior quarterback Jake Phillips halted the Tribe’s first offensive possession inside the N.C. State 10-yard line. Then the Wolfpack came up with another key takeaway. With their offense unable to muster a first down against a stingy College defense, Wolfpack defensive back Nate Irving intercepted Phillips’ pass deep in the College’s territory, setting up the N.C. State offense at the Tribe six-yard line. Two plays later, N.C. State took a 7-0 lead and ending a nine-quarter scoreless streak that had extended into last season.
Another Wolfpack touchdown with just seconds left in the first half put pressure on the Tribe offense, which was hampered to begin with by the absence of starting running backs senior DeBrian Holmes and sophomore Courtland Marriner, to get back into the game.
A 30-yard, third-quarter touchdown strike from Phillips to junior wideout D.J. McAulay briefly spurred hopes of a Tribe comeback as the squad pulled to 21-10. However, N.C. State promptly ran off 13 straight points to ice the game and send the College back to Williamsburg in search of their first win of 2008.
The Tribe defense, much maligned a season ago, held the Wolfpack rushing attack to a mere 67 total yards, while limiting N.C. State to a two of 16 third-down conversion rate and forcing a pair of interceptions. Senior defensive end Adrian Tracy was a force, pressuring Wolfpack quarterbacks Daniel Evans and Harrison Beck and recording eight tackles and a sack.
“Last year we felt like we had the same amount of talent, but didn’t have all the pieces together and were still grasping the defense,” Tracy said. “Since we’ve had another year under our belts, we have that overall experience to put our team in a position to win.”
While the defense did just that, the Tribe offense fared little better than their counterparts from Raleigh. The talented Wolfpack defensive line stifled the College’s ground game and routinely hounded Phillips, containing him to 15 of 30 passing attempts for 139 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
A late interception return for a touchdown by senior cornerback Derek Cox and a 25-yard touchdown pass from junior backup quarterback R.J. Archer provided the final margin.
Despite the loss, the reinvigorated defensive play and close scoreline provide the Tribe with plenty of optimism heading into their home opener Saturday against Virginia Military Institute.
“I thought that, all in all, we had a solid game,” Laycock said. “We gave them all they wanted.”