The best team probably won.
That uncertainty speaks to Old Dominion's resolve and William and Mary's lethargy Saturday night at Foreman Field.
Yes, the 12th-ranked Tribe escaped with a 21-17 victory against the football equivalent of its little brother. But as anyone who watched in-person or on television can attest, the verdict was far from convincing.
William and Mary botched three red-zone scoring opportunities, committed eight penalties and yielded three sacks. This in a matchup of a two-time national semifinalist against a second-year program.
Doesn't say much for the big brother, ey?
"Take a picture of the scoreboard," an ODU fan suggested to his buddy after the Monarchs grabbed a 7-0 first-quarter lead on Thomas DeMarco's 4-yard pass to Kai Blanco.
The inference was clear: This wasn't going to last.
Except that it did.
The Tribe didn't lead until Mike Callahan's third-down, 4-yard touchdown pass to reserve tight end Gareth Hissong with 4:45 remaining, the height of W&M's second-half awakening.
The Monarchs led 14-7 at intermission, had gained 192 yards and sacked Callahan three times. The Tribe was flat, slow and sloppy, which, to paraphrase Dean Vernon Wormer, is no way to go through life.
Had Nick Mayers not dropped a sure touchdown pass -- he was lonesome open after a blown coverage -- the Monarchs' intermission lead would have been 21-7.
William and Mary's worst stumble came after linebacker Dante Cook recovered Mario Crawford's fumble at ODU's 7. Three plays lost 10 yards, 9 on Deron Mayo's third-down sack, after which David Miller's 34-yard attempt doinked off the right upright, the second of his three misses.
But in the second half, the Tribe yielded only 123 yards, five first downs and three points as senior linebacker Wes Steinman made several clutch tackles. The best came on third-and-goal from the 5 early in the fourth quarter when he collared Crawford after a 2-yard reception, forcing the Monarchs to settle for a 20-yard field goal that broke a 14-all tie.
Most important for William and Mary, Callahan (290 yards and two scores) was not sacked after halftime. His poise throughout validated Laycock's decision to start him this season instead of touted North Carolina transfer Mike Paulus.
Callahan would have had a third touchdown pass, but fullback Jimmy Hobson fumbled near the goal line in the third quarter, and ODU's Carvin Powell recovered in the end zone. One series later, Miller missed his third goal in as many attempts, sending the teams to the fourth quarter tied at 14.
The sellout crowd was juiced and the underdogs were confident, if not cocky. But the Monarchs weren't quite good enough on defense, and their facemask and interference penalties on the decisive drive were crippling.
William and Mary began the season fourth in the polls, only to drop its opener, 27-23 at Massachusetts. The Tribe not only lost for the first time in 15 games to an unranked opponent, but also squandered a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead.
That said, perhaps UMass is New England's best football outfit not named the Patriots. The Minutemen lost at Michigan 42-37 Saturday -- Rich Rodriguez hasn't exhaled yet and continues to fold Denard Robinson's laundry -- gaining 439 yards and converting 8-of-14 third or fourth downs.
So maybe, just maybe, William and Mary's defense hasn't declined as much from last season's lights-out group as Laycock and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop feared.
But now comes the hard part.
W&M heads to Maine next week before hosting national champion Villanova on Oct. 2. The Tribe has lost six straight to the Wildcats, including a 2009 playoff semi.
But that's not half of it. There are subsequent tests against unbeaten Delaware, North Carolina, unbeaten James Madison and playoff staple Richmond.
Anything resembling Saturday's performance likely will translate to defeat.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP. Sign up for text alerts by texting "BIGSPORTS" to 71593