MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia needed a quarterback and a comeback to survive a scare from Division I-AA William & Mary in its season opener Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The Mountaineers pitched a second-half shutout and handed the reins of the offense to junior quarterback Paul Millard to overcome a 10-point halftime deficit and escape with a 24-17 victory.
"Obviously, we've got a long way to go," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
A 2-yard touchdown run from freshman Wendell Smallwood put West Virginia ahead, finally, with 3:22 remaining. Thirteen seconds later, redshirt senior safety Darwin Cook hauled in an interception to seal the victory.
Millard, who entered the game locked in a quarterback battle with junior Clint Trickett, started and led the Mountaineers on a swift opening drive that ended with an 11-yard touchdown run by redshirt senior running back Charles Sims, making his West Virginia debut.
Trickett replaced Millard early in the second quarter but couldn't move the offense, so Millard returned -- for good this time.
Aside from "one boneheaded play," as Holgorsen described it, where Millard fumbled the ball on a second-quarter sack, Millard was just what the offense needed: steady, smart and speedy. He completed 19 of 25 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown.
"He managed the game well, and that's all we asked him to do," said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.
And the Mountaineers needed every bit of Millard's poise.
While the West Virginia offense stalled in the first half, the Tribe pushed ahead with a fierce attack. Downfield strikes of 40 and 28 yards from quarterback Michael Graham to receiver Tre McBride, plus Millard's fumble, set up three unanswered William & Mary scores and a 17-7 halftime lead.
In the locker room at the half, Holgorsen decided to ramp up the tempo of West Virginia's sluggish offense.
"The first quarter I thought our tempo was great offensively, and then we sat there and moped around for four or five series," Holgorsen said. "We talked about that at halftime, then came out and played much quicker in the second half."
The second-half comeback started with a 22-yard field goal from redshirt freshman Josh Lambert six minutes into the third quarter and ended five minutes later when Millard found redshirt sophomore receiver Ronald Carswell with a 69-yard touchdown pass.
Millard "knew the play was going to be good" before the Mountaineers broke the huddle.
"It was everything that we wanted at that time. It was exciting -- Ronnie made a great catch," Millard said.
With No. 16 Oklahoma next, it seems the Mountaineers have found their quarterback with hardly a moment to spare. If forced to make a decision today, Holgorsen said, it would no longer be a competition between Millard and Trickett.
The focal point of an offense still searching for its identity was the running backs, who combined for 44 attempts, 237 yards and two touchdowns.
The win, sloppy as it was, marked West Virginia's 10th consecutive season-opening victory.
"There's a lot of question marks right now," Dawson said. "It's hard to come back and win games from behind. So I thought it was an extreme positive that they had tough skin.
"In my opinion, there's no ugly win. It's 1-0. We'll take it."
NOTES -- Junior receiver Kevin White, listed as questionable with a foot injury, did not dress for the opener. ... West Virginia is 13-0 against Division I-AA opponents.