November 11, 2012
NORFOLK — Typical William and Mary. Competitive, creative, but not quite good enough.
Typical Old Dominion. Explosive, athletic, but just sloppy enough to keep things interesting.
And so the collision of these neighboring football programs transpired about as expected.
Monarchs 41, Tribe 31.
"I thought we came in with a pretty good plan and played pretty well," William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said.
Couldn't agree more. The Tribe was aggressive on offense, surprising the Monarchs with deep passes that produced touchdowns of 51 and 72 yards in the first quarter. Defensively, William and Mary was unpredictable, varying coverages and pressures throughout.
"They were getting into my head a little bit there at the beginning," ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke said.
A cursory glance at these teams said blowout. After all, the Monarchs (9-1, 6-1 Colonial Athletic Association) are ranked fourth nationally, while the Tribe is on track for its worst season in 32 years.
But rocked by injuries, especially at quarterback, William and Mary (2-8, 1-6 CAA) is far better than you might think. The Tribe lost by one at Maryland to open the season and fell to Towson, James Madison and New Hampshire — all three ranked and on the road — by a combined seven points.
Even William and Mary's most lopsided defeat, 51-21 to Delaware, was fluky. The Tribe outgained the Blue Hens but gave up three return touchdowns: interception, fumble and blocked field goal.
Moreover, for all its offensive pyrotechnics, ODU often keeps games unnecessarily close, witness victories over New Hampshire (64-61) and Richmond (45-37).
Sure enough, Michael Graham, William and Mary's No. 3 quarterback, threw for 222 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone Saturday. The last, a 4-yarder to Tre McBride 48 seconds before halftime, sent the Tribe to intermission ahead 28-27.
ODU coach Bobby Wilder couldn't have been more impressed with Graham's moxie.
"I thought we hit him at least a dozen times," Wilder said. "I thought we just beat the crap out of the kid. We kept hittin' him and hittin' him and hittin' him, and he hung in there."
But the Monarchs were far more disciplined in pass coverage after halftime. They limited Graham to 9-of-21 passing, intercepted him twice and, most important, held the Tribe to three points.
As admirable as William and Mary's defense was — linebacker Dante Cook and safety Jerome Couplin combined for 26 tackles — 31 points simply weren't going to be enough against the nation's most prolific offense.
Heinicke threw for 291 yards and four scores without an interception and kept countless plays alive with his sneaky speed and uncommon awareness. Tailback Tyree Lee burrowed to 166 yards, 16 on the decisive touchdown with 6:51 to play.
"We took away (Heinicke's) first, second and third reads sometimes, and he still kept the play alive," said Laycock, a quarterback connoisseur. "I think he has 360-degree vision."
The Monarchs and Tribe now head to regular-season finales that couldn't be more different.
William and Mary hosts Richmond hoping to avoid its first 2-9 finish since 1980, Laycock's first year on the job. If the Spiders remain in the top 25 next week, they'll be the sixth ranked team the Tribe has faced.
Meanwhile, playoff-bound ODU heads to No. 9 James Madison, thumped Saturday by Villanova, the only team to beat the Monarchs. Win in Harrisonburg, and the worst ODU can do is tie New Hampshire atop the CAA standings.
Since the Monarchs defeated the Wildcats, they would win a tie-breaker ...
Hold that thought. As you'll recall, when ODU announced last spring its move to Conference USA, the CAA affirmed its bylaws and voted to bar the Monarchs from winning conference titles.
ODU's field hockey team mocked the ruling by going through the CAA undefeated and qualifying for postseason, and now it's football's turn.
"We're treating it as we want to win the conference, we want to win the championship," Wilder said. "That is something I will address again this week with our players. I addressed with them at the start of the year and now that it's a real possibility, I'll address it with them tomorrow in the team meeting.
"If we win next week, we're the league champions, and we deserve to be league champions. Those kids will be treated that way."
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