CARBONDALE, Ill.—It pays to listen to your protection.
William and Mary defensive end Kyle O'Brien, who blocks on punts, put a bug in junior punter David Miller's ear as Miller walked onto the field in the second quarter. The score was knotted at 3 and the Tribe, struggling to move the ball against Southern Illinois, was about to have to give the Salukis the ball back.
Sure enough, Miller took the snap — and found himself all alone.
With O'Brien's words, and special-teams coordinator Scott Boone's edict to always "take it if it's there" in his head, he took off.
"I think I've got some speed," Miller said. "If I see everyone leave and I feel confident, then I'll go. But I don't get it, I'll get killed."
Miller easily picked up 12 yards to keep alive a drive that ended three plays later in Jonathan Grimes' 6-yard touchdown, a 10-3 William and Mary lead and a decisive momentum swing in the Tribe's 24-3 victory at Southern Illinois in Saturday's FCS quarterfinal.
"That was something Scott Boone, our special-teams guy, had talked to me about," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. "He said it might be there. He said 'I'll give David the option,' and I assume he gave him the option. I don't want to find out any differently."
Miller also executed a fake punt against Norfolk State earlier this season, but the stakes Saturday were much higher. But Miller wasn't thinking about the national-semifinal berth on the line, or about what would happen if he didn't make the first-down marker.
"I don't want to think negative when I'm running," said Miller, who averaged 35.7 yards on three punts. "I pretty much saw an open space. I just took it."
Miller stopped short, though, of giving himself a lot of credit for his team's upset of the Salukis, who finished the regular season ranked No. 1 by The Sports Network and had won their last 11 games. He pointed instead to the 16-play, 80-yard drive William and Mary used to open the third quarter and take a 17-3 lead.
"That eight-minute drive was big. That was probably the biggest momentum thing," Miller said. "(The fake punt) helped, I'm sure, but taking those minutes away in the third quarter was definitely a big thing."