Last season, the College of William and Mary stood at one game over .500 heading into a crucial CAA showdown with Villanova University. A nationally ranked Tribe squad had high hopes of downing the Wildcats and jumpstarting a playoff campaign with a victory.
That year, the College came out flat in that critical contest and fell behind at the half 35-17, a deficit which grew to 63-24 in a blowout loss. The Tribe never recovered from the defeat, losing five of its final six games.
Flash forward one year. The Tribe entered the Villanova game under virtually the same circumstances Saturday. Again, the squad came out flat, yielding another 35-point first half to trail 35-7 at the break. However, unlike last season’s team, the 2008 squad did not fold, fighting in the second half to pull back in the
game before falling 38-28.
“I didn’t have to tell them anything [at halftime],” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “We started playing harder and making plays and turning things loose a little bit. They were challenged and they wanted to [get back into the game].”
It is difficult to ascertain any far-reaching conclusions from the College’s loss. The squad came out embarrassingly unprepared, mentally. A litany of mistakes and fluke plays combined to bury the Tribe under an insurmountable deficit.
However, one thing was made clear: this is not the same Tribe team that folded down the stretch in 2007. By coming back to pull within two possessions shortly into the fourth quarter, after trailing by 28 at halftime, the College proved that it is not only talented enough to compete with the likes of a top-CAA team such as Villanova, but is a team of mentally tough players with strong leadership.
“Last year, the Villanova loss was just a bad four quarters of football and I don’t see us having a game like that this year,” senior linebacker and co-captain Josh Rutter said. “We’re a completely different team this year, and we’re going to respond from this.”
Due to that mentality, the Tribe is able to maintain optimism about what would have been a debilitating loss in past seasons.
The Tribe offense did not miss a beat with junior quarterback R.J. Archer, starting in place of injured senior Jake Phillips, under center. Archer was composed, accurate and confident, while throwing for over 300 yards and a touchdown. His only turnover was an interception during the game’s final two minutes when the team was in desperation mode. Furthermore, Archer showed his ability to throw the deep ball, connecting on a perfect 44-yard touchdown strike with senior wideout Elliott Mack, an area in which Phillips has struggled this season.
Additionally, freshman tailback Jonathan Grimes is quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the conference, a complete player whose diverse skill set was exemplified by Saturday’s balanced stat line. He ran 11 times for 61 yards, caught six passes for 105 yards and returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.
The College’s second half might have saved its season, preserving some much-needed momentum heading into a difficult two-game road trip, during which the Tribe will take on no. 4 University of New Hampshire and no. 24 University of Delaware in back-to-back weeks.
“We’ll rebound from this,” Rutter said. “This is a setback, but we have the potential to be a very good team this year. Monday we’ll come in and see the film, and then this game will be out of our minds. We’re going to bounce back and take care of business this week.”
E-mail Matt Poms at [email protected]