Tar Heel quarterback T.J. Yates hugs a wounded Tribe quarterback Mike Paulus after North Carolina comes back to beat William & Mary.
  • (Photo by Rob Rowe)
  • Tar Heel quarterback T.J. Yates hugs a wounded Tribe quarterback Mike Paulus after North Carolina comes back to beat William & Mary.

KENAN STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL It’s homecoming day in the “Southern Part of Heaven,” and today UNC will take on an old, old rival from back in the Southern Conference days.

The visitor is William & Mary, which was founded in 1693 and is America’s Oldest University. Harvard is older as an institution, but W&M was a university first.

And there are also always some bragging rights on the line here. Most North Carolinians know that UNC is America’s first state university, but since W&M is now public and has been for about a century it is America’s oldest state university. Discuss amongst yourselves.

W&M’s greatest athletic victory ever was probably in a 1978 basketball game, when the Indians beat UNC — Phil Ford’s senior team — in December in Williamsburg. It is worth noting at this point that W&M is one of the few schools that was eligible for the inaugural 1939 NCAA Tournament and has never yet played in one.

And among the great football “victories” the old grads at W&M will talk about was the tie against the Tar Heels with the immortal Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice on the field in Williamsburg in 1948.

(DISCLAIMER: The writer of all this is a W&M alumnus. Just like Thomas Jefferson and Robert Gates and Glenn Close and Jon Stewart, who is having a big day today, and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. And famous Republican Congress folks Eric Cantor and yes, Michele Bachmann. Whatever.)

Anyway, as we come into today’s game the Tar Heels are 4-3 and heavy favorites over the Tribe (6-1), which is 0-12-2 in the series but is ranked No. 4 nationally in the FCS poll and has a chance for a national championship. A high-scoring game is expected. UNC has to win. W&M doesn’t.

In the end the Tar Heels do what they have to do, winning the fourth quarter and surviving 21-17.

Tailback Johnny White runs 67 yards down to the end zone to seal a 21-17 Tar Heel victory.
  • (Photo by Rob Rowe)
  • Tailback Johnny White runs 67 yards down to the end zone to seal a 21-17 Tar Heel victory.

The contest gets off to a very weird start. The Tar Heels can’t do much on their first possession and W&M drives from its 20 to the UNC 5 in 11 plays — before Drake Kuhn’s 22-yard field-goal attempt is wide right. The big development in the middle of the drive is an injury to W&M starting quarterback Mike Callahan, which brings former Tar Heel backup Mike Paulus right into the game for the Tribe.

Two plays later the Tar Heels return the present as the Tribe’s Wes Steinman intercepts a T.J. Yates pass and returns it 14 yards to the UNC 18. Three plays later Paulus hits Chase Hill in the right corner of the end zone, but Kuhn’s kick is wide right and it’s 6-0 with 4:37 left in the quarter.

The Tar Heels get their offense going and take the lead in the second period, as Yates scores on a one-yard run to end a 14-play, 82-yard drive with Casey Barth adding the boot with 5:34 left in the half.

The Tribe comes right back, with Paulus hitting Hill across the middle from nine yards out to end the 12-play, 82-yard march with 23 seconds left in the half. W&M goes for two, with Paulus hitting Alex Gottlieb on the left side and Gottlieb stretching the ball over the goal line to make it 14-7.

And then disaster strikes for the Tar Heels again as Shaun Draughn fumbles on the kickoff and Jabrel Mines recovers at the 32. Three plays later Kuhn redeems himself with a 28-yard field goal at the buzzer and it’s 17-7.

UNC’s kicking game responds with a fail at 7:20 of the third, as Barth’s 27-yard field-goal attempt is wide right to leave W&M up by 10.

But the Tar Heels respond with an extremely long drive on their next possession, going 90 yards in 18 plays with Yates hitting Ryan Taylor in the left corner of the end zone from four yards out. Barth adds the boot and it’s 17-14 with 8:32 left.

And Johnny White puts UNC ahead with an untouched 67-yard run from scrimmage with 5:27 to go. Barth’s boot makes it 21-17.

The Tribe gets the ball two more times and gets the ball to the UNC 38 on the first one, but the defense holds and the Homecoming crowd goes home happy.

White finishes with a career-high 164 yards and the fateful touchdown on 29 carries. Yates completes 23 of 33 for 238 yards and the TD with one interception, with Dwight Jones catching nine for 107 yards. Cornerback Kendric Burney, playing his first game of the season for the Tar Heels in the wake of the NCAA woes, leads UNC with seven tackles.

Paulus completes 24 of 35 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.

They said it …
UNC coach Butch Davis: “Obviously it’s good to win the game. Coming into this ballgame our kids had respect for William & Mary. They are who they are and have the record they had because they’re a well-coached football team. At halftime we talked about what it was going to take to win the football game. It was going to take all three phases. There wasn’t going to be any margin for error. I think our offensive line showed up tonight and Johnny White ran the ball really well.
“I thought (Paulus) played very well. I had a chance to talk to him afterwards and told him he played extraordinarily well. He’s done a remarkable job this year to help them win those games, and he played well tonight.”

W&M coach Jimmye Laycock: “First, I thought we had a great effort, we played very hard. It was a tough situation where we had a lot of guys in and out of the lineup and a lot of guys banged up. I thought Mike Paulus, stepping in there after Callahan got hurt, played extremely, extremely well. I thought defensively we really competed, we made things happen and we lined up against them. They popped that one play (on White’s TD) and they got us, but other than that I feel like we really played well defensively. We’re disappointed. We had a chance to win that thing going into the fourth quarter.”

White: “It was a great feeling. I just thank God that the O-line just came together for us in the second half and really blocked their tails off for the tight ends and tailbacks and receivers.”

Burney: “Any time you win, whether it’s William & Mary or its USC or Florida State, it doesn’t matter, it’s a win. That’s the thing we’ve got to go into every game looking at. No matter who the opponent is, we have to play the way you know how to play. Mike Paulus threw some great balls in the first half, and you’ve got to give him credit for that.”
What does it all mean?
That UNC dodges a bullet and W&M comes up short in its chance to get one of its top 10 football wins ever.

Stars of the game
1. White.
2. Yates.
3. Paulus.

Play of the game
White’s long touchdown run.

All-time series
UNC leads 13-0-2.

UNC: Won 1.
W&M: Lost 1.

Up next
W&M at New Hampshire, Nov. 6, noon
UNC at Florida State, Nov. 6, TBA

William & Marys Michael Paulus receives the snap.
  • (Photo by Rob Rowe)
  • William & Mary’s Michael Paulus receives the snap.