Two plays hundreds of miles away last Saturday, in the same area of the football field, produced the same result: concussions for the quarterbacks at Old Dominion and William and Mary.
ODU's Taylor Heinicke displayed no immediate symptoms and remained in the game versus Liberty. The Tribe's Michael Graham was slow to respond and sidelined after he was tagged at Villanova.
Graham continues to be evaluated and his status for Saturday's game against Penn is questionable. ODU is idle this Saturday, but coach Bobby Wilder said that Heinicke likely would have been available if the Monarchs played.
Heinicke's concussion was, in part, self-inflicted, when he lowered his shoulder and lunged for the end zone on a play early in the fourth quarter, colliding with Liberty's Walt Aikens.
Graham was blasted by Villanova defensive end Rakim Cox on 2nd-and-goal at the Wildcats' 8-yard line. When Graham was slow to get up, the Tribe called a timeout so that staff could quickly assess him and consider the next play.
"The thing you kind of worry about, in any situation, is a player trying to shake it off and not being right, but trying to push himself through it," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. "You don't want him to do that. It was obvious to me that something wasn't — he was slow getting up — something wasn't right."
The Tribe inserted backup Steve Cluley, while the medical staff evaluated Graham. W&M eventually kicked a field goal. The Tribe's defense forced a three-and-out by Villanova, and W&M got the ball back — a sequence that took perhaps five minutes of actual time.
W&M's medical staff determined that Graham displayed, at the very least, concussion-like symptoms and informed Laycock that he wouldn't be available. Cluley and later Brent Caprio played quarterback.
"We're going to take a timeout," Laycock said, "we're going to see what the situation is, see whether he's right, whether he's not right. I'd rather err on that side."
Wilder takes a similar approach, though nothing seemed amiss about Heinicke until more than an hour after the game.
After Heinicke returned to his room, he didn't feel normal. He called quarterbacks coach Ron Whitcomb, who then informed Wilder. Wilder instructed Heinicke to go to the hospital, where medical staff determined that he suffered a mild concussion.
"He didn't exhibit any concussion symptoms during the game," Wilder said. "That can happen because of the adrenaline flowing. You don't realize you're hurt until you start to relax. Whether that be a concussion or an injury to a body part, we find out a lot more on Sunday. I was very proud of Taylor for reaching out to us Saturday night to tell us how he felt."
Like many coaches, Wilder is attuned to the expanding knowledge and sensitivity toward concussions and head trauma.
"Our medical staff is trained, when they watch the game, they're specifically looking at collisions," Wilder said. "They're specifically looking to see, if there's a violent collision, then our medical staff is watching that player after the play. I'm watching that player. … If I look and think there's any issue at all, he's out of the game and we're reviewing him. I like to think I have a reputation of holding players out if I'm concerned."
Heinicke remained in the game — he directed the winning touchdown drive in the final minute of the Monarchs' 21-17 victory. He also caught an earful from Wilder and the staff about not sliding or getting out of bounds and risking injury.
Wilder also said that he decided not to play defenders Nate Barnes and Terrell Reid versus Liberty, though both could have played if necessary. Both were sidelined by injuries in recent weeks.
"I didn't feel like it was in their best interests because I didn't think they could protect themselves well enough on the field to be as close to safe as possible," he said. "I say that, that's kind of a contradiction in terms because football is a collision sport. I'm always going to err on the side of the kids, long term and their future, because when the fans stop cheering, there's a lot more to life for all of them."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637