MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia led its Football Championship Subdivision opponent for only a small fraction of Saturday's season-opener at Mountaineer Field, but despite the disappointments that came with that indignity, the Mountaineers were happy enough to have the lead at the end.
Their two quarterbacks and their many new players on offense and defense escaped William & Mary 24-17 before a crowd of 56,350 at Mountaineer Field to move to 1-0 for a 10th straight season.
"We're obviously excited to get out of the game with a victory," said WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen, who is 3-0 in openers, but begins the 2014 season against Alabama in Atlanta.
"Hats off to William & Mary. They were exactly what we thought they were. They were very well coached and didn't make mistakes. I expect these guys will win some games."
After tying the score late in the third quarter, WVU took the lead for good with 3:22 to go with a 2-yard run by freshman running back Wendell Smallwood. The Mountaineers only led for 11 minutes and 2 seconds.
Senior safety Darwin Cook ended William & Mary's bid for another FCS upset with an interception on the next play from scrimmage. WVU finished the game taking a knee at William & Mary's 4-yard line.
Paul Millard started and finished for WVU and completed 19 of 25 passes for 237 yards and one touchdown. Charles Sims carried 23 times for 120 yards in his first game with the Mountaineers. Freshman receiver Daikiel Shorts caught seven passes for 63 yards and made a heroic play on WVU's game-winning drive.
Down 17-7 at halftime, WVU had 221 yards in the second half after gaining just 165 in the first half.
The Mountaineers, now 13-0 against FCS teams and 16-0-1 against William & Mary, open Big 12 Conference play next Saturday at No. 16 Oklahoma.
"We're going to a place that's incredibly, incredibly hard to play in," Holgorsen said. "They're very well-coached. They've got lots of good players. We're very inexperienced. We had one guy make a big play. I've got lots of concerns."
The Mountaineers trailed for 20:41, but finally pulled even late in the third quarter. After a red zone possession ended with a 22-yard field goal, WVU tied the score 17-17 on a 69-yard pass from Millard to junior college transfer Ronald Carswell with 3:15 left in the quarter.
WVU used play-action out of an uneven three-back formation that gave the Tribe problems throughout the game, and Carswell ran under a perfectly lofted pass in the middle of the field.
Carswell led the Mountaineers with 73 yards receiving in his first game.
"He's got juice," Holgorsen said. "He can run."
The Tribe punted, but Cody Clay was flagged for a chop block and WVU couldn't escape a first-and-22. New punter Nick O'Toole's 56-yard punt gave William & Mary the ball at their 22 with 13:14 left to play.
After gaining a first down, the Tribe took a holding penalty that backed them up to their 24, but picked up a first down with a 21-yard pass. WVU put a stop to the drive at midfield three plays later, but punt returner Jordan Thompson let the punt bounce and roll to the 6.
WVU had to punt again, but O'Toole, who averaged 50.6 yards on five punts in his debut, helped again with a 50-yard kick to the 25. The Tribe went three-and-out, and a low snap preceded a wobbly punt that Thompson caught with a bobble at midfield.
Millard completed a 15-yard pass to K.J. Myers, who fumbled and was rescued by Shorts, who recovered at the 16. Smallwood's touchdown came on the third carry of his career.