William and Mary’s anguish has taken many forms this season: a kicker’s right foot; a shoulder sling; a penalty flag; a bolt of lightning. Add to the menu a bouncing ball and the questionable decision of an Old Dominion sophomore to grab said ball and attempt to do something with it.

Antonio Vaughan’s unlikely, how’d-that-happen, 70-yard punt return for a touchdown didn’t decide the Monarchs’ 41-31 win. It was a second-quarter exclamation mark and simply one more hurdle, one more cold, wet mackerel upside the mush of a team with zero margin for error and that all season has watched opponents make their own breaks.

“We had him tackled,” said the Tribe’s nearly incredulous head coach Jimmye Laycock, who repeated himself twice more just for emphasis. “Had him tackled. We had him tackled, and we let him go. I mean, what do you do? What do you tell them? Tell me. Hang on longer, right? I mean, really. We had him. There’s no answer to that one. We were there, we had him, we had him wrapped up, we just didn’t put him down.

“Give him credit, too. Heck of a play. … We were there. You’ve just got to tackle him.”

Week 12 in the Association featured plenty of other head scratchers and big plays. James Madison coach Mickey Matthews showed up on time for Saturday’s game at Villanova, but his team did not in the Wildcats’ 35-20 crunch job; Richmond’s thievery continued in a 23-17 win against Delaware.

Towson continued its late push with a predictable 41-10 win against the Conference Wafflers; and the Fighting Currys sent half the team to the L.L. Bean outlet in Freeport for Gore-Tex and fleece, while the other half remained in Orono for a 51-7 loss to Maine.

Conference leader New Hampshire was idle, as were Northeastern and Hofstra.

Vaughan’s punt return embodied the calculated risk-taking approach of ODU special teams maharajah Bobby Wilder, who also doubles as the Monarchs’ head coach.

“That was one of those, ‘No-No-No-Yes!! (situations),” Wilder joked afterward.

Drake Kuhn’s low, rugby-style punt bounced a couple of times, as William and Mary players converged on the ball.

“I (saw) it was a short punt,” Vaughan said, “and I thought twice about picking it up. I was going back and forth (deciding), just trying to make a play. So I went on and picked it up, and broke one tackle and (saw) daylight.”

Vaughan broke a tackle, curled left toward the ODU sideline, picked up an entourage and raced to the end zone for a 20-14 lead. On the sideline afterward, Wilder praised him, but reminded him of the risk.

“We have a lot of trust in Nick Mayers and Antonio Vaughan, and those kids have made a lot of really good decisions for us,” Wilder said. “What we tell them is, if you feel like you can pick the ball up cleanly, then you can do it. If you can’t pick it up cleanly, then you’ve got to let it roll and we’ll take the yardage.

“We harp on those kids all the time about not losing 15, 20, 30 yards on a roll, to pick the ball up and play it. But to answer your question, 99 times out of 100, let’s take the ball and play offense.”

Taylor Heinicke and the ODU offense were more productive, particularly in the second half. William and Mary settled for one field goal on four trips inside ODU territory in the second half, including a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line.

Heinicke, meanwhile, directed fourth-quarter touchdown drives of 79 and 80 yards that cinched the Monarchs’ inclusion in the FCS playoffs heading into the final week.

ODU (9-1, 6-1 CAA) is one of six CAA teams still in contention for playoff berths, along with New Hampshire, JMU, Villanova, Richmond and Towson.

Four intriguing games on the final Saturday: ODU at James Madison (7-3, 5-2 CAA); Towson (6-4, 5-2 CAA) at New Hampshire (8-2, 6-1 CAA); Villanova (7-3, 5-2 CAA) at Delaware; and Richmond (7-3, 5-2) at William and Mary.

Depending on results, the CAA could have one 9-2 team (ODU), four 8-3 teams (UR, ‘Nova, JMU and UNH) and a 7-4 team (Towson). In that event, someone and maybe sometwo, are staying home. We will attempt to separate them in the coming days.

A win two Saturdays ago at Maine aside, the Mickeys are leaking oil, due to quarterback issues and defensive inconsistency. ‘Nova built leads of 17-0 and 33-7 in a performance Matthews called “embarrassing.”