WVU holds off William & Mary in opener
College Football Videos
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia, a 321⁄2-point favorite, had to turn to an unexpected source — its punter — to score a 24-17 come-from-behind victory Saturday over William & Mary before 56,350 fans at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The Mountaineers won their 10th straight season opener and 13th consecutive game over an FCS opponent. But in the fourth quarter, with the outcome uncertain and WVU deep in its own territory, the Mountaineers twice needed punter Nick O'Toole to unleash a bomb, and he delivered with a pair of 50-yard punts.
“Shoutout to Nick O'Toole,” said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. “Talk about flipping the field. He was averaging over 50 yards a punt.”
O'Toole averaged 50.6 yards on five punts.
O'Toole's punts bought the offense time to find its rhythm after the Mountaineers fell behind, 17-7, at halftime. West Virginia needed a 69-yard scoring pass from Paul Millard to one-time Alabama receiver Ronald Carswell late in the third quarter and a 2-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Wendell Smallwood with 3:22 left in the game to avoid the upset.
The Mountaineers sealed the victory when senior safety Darwin Cook intercepted William & Mary quarterback Michael Graham on the Tribe's final drive.
The anticipation over who would start at quarterback was answered when coach Dana Holgorsen sent Millard, Geno Smith's backup the past two years, onto the field for the first possession.
Millard and Florida State transfer Clint Trickett had battled for the starting job through camp, and Holgorsen did not tell Millard of his decision until Friday night.
It did not rattle him.
“I slept like a baby,” said Millard, who completed 19 of 25 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown while Trickett, playing two series, was 0 for 2 with a sack.
“The closer it got to gameday, the communication between Paul and me was better,” Holgorsen said. “That is, his experience on seeing the signals and communicating them.”
Millard came out sharp, completing his first eight passes. By then, he and newcomer Charles Sims, the running back transfer from Houston, had given WVU a 7-0 lead.
Using a balanced attack, WVU went downfield on its first possession, driving to the William & Mary 1. That's when Holgorsen called for Sims to negotiate his way over right tackle.
Sims found the hole clogged, stutter-stepped to move a defender, then cut sharply right and ran untouched into the end zone for the first score.
“I just saw the end zone,” Sims said.
The teams traded scoreless possessions before William & Mary came to life. The Tribe set up deep in WVU territory after receiver Tre McBride made a leaping grab of a Graham pass at the 3.
Two plays later, Graham rolled out and found Darnell Laws running loose in the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown and a 7-7 tie.
That quieted the crowd as the game rolled into the second quarter.
The Tribe called on the same play, Graham lofting a pass high and deep and McBride going up to make an even more spectacular catch at the 2.
A couple of plays netted minus-3 yards, but Graham scrambled on the next play, saw an opening, drove toward the end zone and got in, putting William & Mary ahead, 14-7.
John Carpenter added a 29-yard field goal to give the Tribe a 17-7 halftime advantage.
Whatever Holgorsen told his team at halftime worked. The Mountaineers came out with a new outlook. Upping the tempo with Millard, West Virginia drove the field but settled for a 22-yard field goal from Josh Lambert to cut the deficit to 17-10.
After a missed William & Mary field goal, Millard found Carswell running open beyond the secondary for a 69-yard touchdown that sent the game into the fourth quarter tied at 17-17.
Bob Hertzel is a freelance writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Pirates can’t waste McCutchen’s prime
- East Huntingdon man dies following police chase
- Giants, Bumgarner shut out Pirates in wild-card game
- Steelers pressing to create opportunities to get to quarterback
- Pirates’ Martin calls crowd chant ‘pretty special’
- Consol Energy cutting retiree health benefits, phasing out pension
- Highmark to increase premiums, limit access to health care in new plans
- Woman dies in fall at McConnells Mill State Park
- Dense fog slows Western Pa. morning rush hour; advisory extended
- Police: Westmoreland woman forged painkiller prescriptions
- Steelers notebook: Mitchell aware of need to reduce penalties