William and Mary beat Virginia. In football. On the road. And in dominating fashion. Hold on a second; let that sink in … Okay, let’s continue.
The circumstances behind the Tribe’s 26-14 upset win over U.Va. Saturday night may have been ideal — it was the debut of a new spread offense for embattled coach Al Groh’s Cavaliers, and the all-around sloppy play from the Virginia offense showed that the WaHoo’s are nowhere close to perfecting it. But without an opportunistic defense and a cool-headed quarterback, the Tribe doesn’t pull this one out.
Following a first possession touchdown by Virginia, the Tribe’s defensive unit settled down quickly and found its groove. Playing in his first collegiate game, redshirt freshman safety B.W. Webb intercepted three passes — returning his final pick 50 yards for a game-sealing touchdown — and the Tribe recovered four fumbles. Simply put, every time the ball was deflected or hit the ground, the Tribe was the hungrier team and got to it first. On top of the turnovers, the Tribe held Virginia scoreless for the final 37:29 and got a huge stop on fourth and one at midfield with the Cavaliers charging and 9:48 remaining.
Senior quarterback R.J. Archer, a native of Charlottesville, looked sharp on the Tribe’s lone touchdown drive in the first quarter, connecting with redshirt freshman wideout Ryan Moody for a big 48-yard gain and then senior tight end Rob Varno on a bootleg right for the score. Head Coach Jimmye Laycock shut the offense down a bit once the Tribe took a 16-14 lead midway through the third quarter, but Archer made few mistakes, holding onto the ball well and throwing it away in big spots instead of forcing low-percentage passes.
Aside from the play on the field, the College’s biggest victory of the night came in the form of fan support. The Tribe filled up Virginia’s visitors’ section, and the cheers of the raucous crowd could be heard in every corner of Scott Stadium. And don’t think it was lost on the Tribe’s players. Heading into the locker room down 14-13 at the half, the crowd clearly gave the Tribe a boost, and following the victory, nearly every person sporting green and gold stuck around to take in the moment.
After the game, the streets of Cavalier country spontaneously erupted with cheers of “Go Tribe,” as groups of College students and fans passed each other throughout the night. In at least one Charlottesville bar, the of-age William and Mary faithful made their presence felt with an impromptu rendition of the alma mater. For a small school not known to take its athletics as seriously as its academics, the outpouring of support was enough to send goose bumps up and down the spine.
So let’s look at the big picture here. Thirty-eight FCS teams took on the big boys from the FBS in week one, and 35 lost. The winners — Richmond, Villanova and the College — all hail from the CAA South Division. Throw in James Madison, which opens its season this weekend against Maryland in another potential CAA over ACC upset special, and you are looking at four teams ranked in the top 8 (Richmond, Villanova and James Madison are all in the top 6). It isn’t a stretch to say that the Tribe plays in the toughest division, team for team, of any in college football.
If the Tribe’s goal this season is to make the playoffs, this win over Virginia represents much more than a symbolic victory. In the CAA South, every win, and loss, counts. By avoiding an early blemish to its record, the Tribe can afford one more loss down the road. After all, four of the Tribe’s remaining 10 games are against teams ranked in the Coaches Poll preseason top 10.
Saturday night will not soon be forgotten by anyone associated with the game. It was a career-defining victory for Laycock, who is now in his 30th season as the College’s head coach, and has the potential to change the culture around Tribe football. Let’s hope it does, but if the rest of this season is a bitter disappointment, we can always remember that beating U.Va. was pretty sweet.