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August 31, 2013

Mountaineers outlast Tribe 24-17

After eight painstakingly long months, the wait is finally over. The 2013 West Virginia football season finally got underway Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium, albeit with a little more concern heading into the season. The Mountaineers thwarted the upset hopes of FCS foe William and Mary, closing out a 24-17 victory in the second half.

The big story entering Saturday's contest continued to be the recent quarterback battle between Paul Millard and Clint Trickett, but the contest provided a bit of clarity to the otherwise muddled race. Millard, the junior from Flower Mound, TX who spent the past two years behind Geno Smith, took to the field after a defensive three-and-out to a rousing ovation from those in attendance

And it would not take long for Millard to make his impression in the offense. Along with strong help from the running back corps, Millard led the Mountaineers down the field to the tune of 67-yards on eight plays, ending with an 11-yard scamper off-tackle by Houston transfer Charles Sims for the score.

Millard himself looked impressive on the opening series, going 4-4 for 40 yards before setting up Sims for the touchdown.

Another strong three-and-out stop by the defense, helping fans forget the unit's performance of a year ago, put the offense in another good position, starting at their own 27-yard line. However, despite the best efforts of Millard the offense stalled at the 38-yard line.

The defense's good mojo would be short-lived, however, as the Tribe quickly marched the ball downfield. After gaining their first first-down of the contest, William and Mary quarterback Michael Graham connected with receiver Tre McBride for a 40-yard gain deep into the red zone. Three plays later, McBride would rollout of the pocket and hit fullback Darnell Laws for the touchdown, evening the score, 7-7.

After a failed offensive series for the Mountaineers, the Tribe returned to the field, continuing to nickel and dime the West Virginia defense with a number of short passes and dump-offs. Another deep pass to McBride set William and Mary up at the 2-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Graham would scramble into the end zone for six, putting the Tribe up 14-7.

Following a pair of sluggish drives, Head Coach Dana Holgorsen pulled the trigger on the two-quarterback system. Redshirt junior transfer Clint Trickett made his debut at Mountaineer Field for the offense's first drive of the second quarter, with little success. The quarterback failed to ignite any fire underneath his offense as the Mountaineers went three-and-out.

Trickett would be unsuccessful yet again on his second series, leading to a quarterback swap. However, Millard would have even less success on his attempt, as the quarterback fumbled deep in West Virginia territory. The Tribe would jump on the loose ball at the 34-yard line with just over a minute remaining in the half.

The bleeding would be slighted a touch as the West Virginia defense held the Tribe to a mere field goal attempt. But William and Mary would connect with a 29-yard field goal from kicker John Carpenter to send the Tribe into halftime with a 17-7 lead.

Millard opened up the second half under center as the Mountaineers looked to halt the momentum of the upset-minded Tribe. Early on in the drive West Virginia appeared to be replicating the offensive success of its initial drive, moving the ball fluidly and controlling the tempo.

However, apparent confusion on the field at times slowed the Mountaineer's progress in the red zone, ending the drive with a 22-yard Josh Lambert field goal. West Virginia continued to trail William and Mary 17-10 with just under nine minutes remaining in the third quarter.

After being taken out of the game for much of the afternoon, the crowd was ignited halfway through the third quarter following an undisciplined personal foul penalty for the Tribe. The 56,350 in attendance at Mountaineer Field rose to their feet, willing the defense to a big stop in the hotly-contested matchup.

The Mountaineers would parlay that momentum onto to offensive side, with Millard again finding his rhythm and deep ball. The junior gunslinger caught the Tribe cheating up with a stacked backfield and took full advantage, throwing over top to Ronald Carswell for a 69-yard score. Millard's touchdown toss was his first of the game, tying the contest at 17-17.

Both teams traded defensive punches throughout the fourth quarter, with West Virginia being able to step up and hold the Tribe at bay.

With the crowd antsy over a potential upset, the Mountaineers finally broke through and retook the lead for the first time since the first quarter with under four minutes to play in the contest. After pacing through a rocky stretch on a few drives, Millard found his inner-game manager, leading the Mountaineers on a go-ahead 50-yard drive, ending with a two-yard touchdown run by freshman Wendell Smallwood. With the score, West Virginia retook the lead, pulling ahead 24-17 with three minutes remaining.

The Tribe would have one last shot to keep the hope of an upset alive. However, the West Virginia defense would pull off one final coup. Redshirt senior Darwin Cook jumped the route of a William and Mary receiver to pull down a pick and all but shore up a Mountaineer victory.

Final score: West Virginia 24, William and Mary 17.

The Mountaineers were led offensively by a strong performance from Paul Millard. The junior quarterback showed efficiency in his starting debut, connecting on 19 of 25 attempts for 237 yards and a touchdown.

Charles Sims joined Millard atop the box score after putting together an impressive 119 yards rushing and a touchdown in his WVU debut.

The Mountaineers will return to action next Saturday as the travel to Norman, OK to take on the Oklahoma Sooners. Kickoff is at 8pm.

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