Two weekends ago, the College of William and Mary was blown out on its own field by a dismal first-half performance against Villanova University. However, a strong second half cut the final deficit to 38-28 and generated crucial momentum heading into a big road match-up against the fourth-ranked University of New Hampshire.
That momentum paid off Saturday as the College downed the previously undefeated Wildcats 38-34 on a
dramatic touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining.
Senior quarterback Jake Phillips played his best game of the season, completing 30 of 40 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns. Freshman tailback Jonathan Grimes continued his impressive rookie campaign, rushing for 145 yards and a 56-yard score and adding eight catches for 47 yards. Junior defensive end Adrian Tracy was a defensive maelstrom, notching 14 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks.
The College’s upset win kept alive its playoff hopes. With its defeat of New Hampshire, the Tribe evened its CAA record at 1-1.
Furthermore, after dispatching New Hampshire, the College will begin a four-game stretch against opponents with losing records. The Tribe’s opponents over that span are a combined 9-17 for the season, and the College should be favored in each match-up. If the Tribe can take care of business over the next month, it could conceivably enter its final two games — at no. 1 James Madison University and home against no. 9 University of Richmond — with a 5-1 conference record. In that scenario, a split would likely be sufficient to return the College to the postseason for the first time since 2004.
However, several key factors will affect that possibility.
First, Phillips must use his performance against New Hampshire as a stepping stone to return to the consistency and accuracy he exhibited last season. The senior has been erratic at times this season, throwing eight interceptions — one more than his season total in 11 games last year — through four games (he sat out the Villanova game due to injury). For the Tribe to win five of its remaining six games — likely the minimum mark needed to qualify for the playoffs — the offense must take care of the football and that all starts with Phillips.
Second, the College must string together four quarters of consistent football. At times this season, the Tribe has looked unstoppable, moving the ball at will on offense and using an impregnable defense to shut down opponents. However, as the first half against Villanova shows, consistency has been a major issue, and the College is neither talented nor deep enough to put anything but its best effort forward.
Third, the defense must step up its play inside the red zone. Against Villanova and New Hampshire, the Tribe allowed touchdowns seven out of the nine times that the opposing offense entered the College’s 20-yard line. While the Tribe was facing two of the best offenses in the conference in its last two contests, its red zone defense must improve for the team to be successful against strong CAA competition. The offense can’t be expected to win shoot outs every week.
It will be an uphill battle to a playoff spot, but if the College performs like it did against New Hampshire, the Tribe could face Richmond Nov. 22 at home with a playoff berth on the line.
E-mail Matt Poms at [email protected]