For two nearly flawless quarters, Michael Paulus' had the type of Saturday afternoons he dreamed of having at Kenan Stadium.
Paulus originally was a Tar Heel, but on this Saturday, the transfer to William and Mary was doing his damage as a visitor, vexing the UNC defense and outdueling his friend, opposing quarterback T.J. Yates.
Paulus completed 13 of 14 passes, the lone incompletion a flat-out drop, in staking William and Mary to a 17-7 halftime lead over North Carolina.
The Tar Heels flipped the script, but not until the final 81/2 minutes, winning 21-17 and dealing the Tribe two major setbacks: injuries to starting quarterback Mike Callahan and Paulus, the more-than-able-bodied reserve.
Paulus left the game with a shoulder injury on the second-to-last play; Callahan was knocked out in the first quarter.
William and Mary (6-2) didn't miss Callahan — because Paulus didn't miss a beat in his chance to shine on his former home field. He threw a pair of touchdown passes to Chase Hill, and the Tribe defense was stout for just about the entire game, making the big-school Tar Heels more than a little bit nervous.
North Carolina eventually got to Paulus, limiting his connections to the wideouts and also knocking out top running back Jonathan Grimes, who suffered a blow to the head on a kickoff return.
"No question, when you play a I-A team, depth is always an issue," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. "As we get through a season, it's even more of a problem for us when guys are banged up and out of the lineup. I think it hurt us in the fourth quarter — I'm not making excuses, it's just a fact."
Laycock was right. North Carolina (5-3) outgained William and Mary 172-29 in the fourth quarter, with Johnny White running for 99 of his 169 yards.
And when the Tribe tried to find one last miracle, needing a last-minute touchdown, Paulus scrambled and was hit by Donte Paige-Moss, going down to the turf and staying down with what team officials called a shoulder injury. Paulus was not made available for interviews.
"I thought we played very hard in some tough situations," Laycock said. "I thought Mike Paulus stepped in there when Callahan was hurt and played extremely well."
He also praised the play of the defense, which held the lead until White, a hulking tailback, broke free on a short-yardage play.
North Carolina cut the lead to a field goal with an 18-play, 90-yard drive that included two fourth-down conversions. Yates found tight end Ryan Taylor in the left corner of the end zone, and a sleepy North Carolina crowd suddenly had something to cheer about.
The cheers grew louder when Paulus was sacked on third down, forcing a punt and giving UNC possession with 6:50 remaining.
William and Mary forced UNC into third down, but that was about the time the defense finally looked spent. White went off left tackle but quickly got outside, getting the first down and then a touchdown, a 67-yard run that produced the final margin.
"Defensively, I thought we played very, very well," Laycock said. "We made things happen, and we lined up against them and they popped that one short-yardage play and they got us, but other than that I feel like we really played well defensively."
Linebacker Wes Steinman gave the Tribe a quick change of possession early. After William and Mary went on a 75-yard drive that produced no points, the Tar Heels took over. But Steinman snagged a pass from Yates and was one tackler away from returning it for a touchdown.
"He kinda threw it right to me," Steinman said. "I almost dropped it. It about hit me in my facemask. … I would have liked to have been able to break that last tackle and go score, but I can't complain."
Three plays later, the Tribe was in the end zone, on Paulus' first touchdown pass at Kenan Stadium.
Paulus threw a fade to the right corner, and Chase Hill went up over LeCount Fantroy and grabbed it for a touchdown. Kuhn missed the extra point, but William and Mary led 6-0 with 4:37 left in the first quarter.
Hill's second TD catch, 23 seconds before halftime, gave the Tribe a 17-7 halftime lead and was Hill's 16th career score by receptions, moving him into a tie for eighth on the school's all-time list. But the Tribe couldn't score in the second half and was particularly stuffed in the fourth quarter, when 20 plays produced just 29 yards.
The games don't get any easier — a trip to New Hampshire in a return to Colonial Athletic Association play. But Laycock is confident his team, ranked No. 3 in the nation in the Football Championship Subdivision, can rebound from a tough loss.
"The mental part — our guys are pretty resilient," he said. "We came off a big win (against Delaware), and I think we came in focused. I thought we did a heckuva job. I think we can focus next week."