WILLIAMSBURG—They began the season at opposite ends of the spectrum and will conclude that way. William and Mary was expected by many to contend for a conference and perhaps a national title. Old Dominion was an unknown quantity in its first year competing in one of the best FCS leagues in the country.
After a vastly entertaining game Saturday at Zable Stadium, it was evident that one team belongs in the discussion among the league's and maybe the nation's best, while the other demonstrated that it's capable of competing with the best when all of its pieces align.
"I look back when this thing started in early September and the word that pops into my mouth as I sit here on Nov. 12 is 'Wow,'|" ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. "What a run by this football team. … We didn't just knock on the door to the playoffs. As I told the team in the locker rooom: We just kicked the door down. I'm very, very proud of that."
The Monarchs absorbed one of William and Mary's best shots of what's been in many ways a frustrating season. The Tribe (4-6, 2-5 CAA) amassed a season-best 503 yards of offense – the two teams combined for 1,003 yards – as tailback Jonathan Grimes proved his chops, and quarterback Brent Caprio seemed to channel former W&M All-American Lang Campbell for three-plus quarters.
"We played very well in a lot of areas," a clearly disappointed Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said, "but not well enough in all areas."
ODU came from behind three times in the second half, the last time on Angus Harper's seven-yard, tackle-shedding run past All-CAA linebacker Jake Trantin for the game-winning touchdown and the final points with 2:48 remaining.
ODU clinched the win with two Eriq Lewis interceptions in the final 1:50 that squelched the Tribe's final two opportunities.
"William and Mary's a good team," ODU defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron said. "Their record doesn't speak to how good a of team they really are. Their offensive line, their tight ends, their backs are all really good players."
William and Mary often dominated the line of scrimmage and the time of possession (36:24 to 23:36) as Grimes netted a career-best 227 yards and three TDs on a school-record 38 carries in his final home game.
Caprio, the latest in W&M's revolving door season at quarterback, completed 18 of his first 22 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown. But down and desperate after Harper's run gave the Monarchs a 35-31 lead, Caprio completed only two of his last six passes, with the two picks by Lewis.
"We had our chances up until the end," Laycock said, "then we just made a couple bad decisions on some throws."
ODU freshman quarterback Taylor Heinicke (30-for-39, 273 yards, 58 yards rushing) continued his superb play, again directing the Monarchs with his arm and his feet. ODU shifted from an air-based attack in the first half to a more ground-based approach in the second half, when Harper rushed for 69 of his 106 yards and two touchdowns.
William and Mary took a more meat-and-potatoes offensive approach, with Grimes behind a superior effort from a standout day from the line.
"This game, in my opinion, came down to turnovers," Wilder said. "Both offenses had 500 yards. Neither defense could get a handle on either offense. It was going to be decided at the end by turnovers and somebody making an uncommon play."
Lewis made two such plays, Wilder said, and Harper one. One play that Wilder didn't mention was center Jeremy Hensley pouncing on receiver Nick Mayers' fumble on the eventual game-winning drive. Three plays later, Harper went around right end for the score.
Lewis, the redshirt freshman cornerback, had missed the past three games with a high ankle sprain, but provided ability and stability to a unit that had been susceptible recently.
"I'm healthy," Lewis said. "I played today, so I'm healthy."
That's more than can be said for several of his mates, some of whom played regardless and some of whom were sidelined. The Monarchs didn't have a bye during the regular season and have been grinding for 15 consecutive weeks.
ODU finally gets a week off and could have as many as three weeks until it next plays, if the Monarchs earn a first-round bye for the playoffs. No nine-win CAA team has ever been excluded from the playoffs.
"The goal is not to enter the playoffs and make a nice showing," Wilder said. "The goal now is to compete for and win a national championship."