Sometimes the statistics lie. William and Mary outgained Villanova by 189 yards Saturday evening. The fifth-ranked Tribe picked up 12 more first downs and possessed the ball for five more minutes than the Wildcats. But no. 2 Villanova came out on top in the only statistic that matters — the final score — with a 28-17 victory over the Tribe at Villanova Stadium.
William and Mary (4-1, 1-1 CAA) was unable to come away with touchdowns on four of five trips to the red zone, and the team was penalized eight times for 75 yards in a game that got off to an ominous start for the Tribe.
On the first play from scrimmage, a Villanova (5-0, 2-0 CAA) flea flicker resulted in a 57-yard touchdown. But while the play put the Tribe defense on its heels, an ill-advised unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the team, committed after a third-down stop two possessions later, opened the floodgates for Villanova’s 21 first half points.
The play occurred on a third and nine from Villanova’s 21-yard line. The Wildcats ran an end-around looking for first-down yardage, but sophomore cornerback Terrell Wells was ready and delivered a bone-shattering hit on the Wildcat runner. Before the Tribe could exit the field, a flag for taunting was thrown.
“We had been preparing for that play throughout the entire week. They’ve gotten a lot of yards on those under routes, coming around the other sideline, and I was just sitting there waiting on it,” Wells said. “[The penalty was] a big change of momentum. It’s a little shock right there, but when you’re a good defense you have to just step up and turn things around.”
The Tribe was unable to do so. Villanova scored a touchdown six plays later to take a 14-0 lead. The Wildcats stretched the advantage to 21-9 by halftime.
Senior quarterback R.J. Archer, wearing a brace to protect his banged-up left knee, threw a school-record 55 times, completing 35 passes for 354 yards.
But Archer was unable to guide the Tribe into the end zone until late in the fourth quarter, when a four-yard pass to junior wideout Chase Hill gave the Tribe a touchdown after the game was all but decided.
The offense suffered two turnovers — the first on an end-zone interception on the Tribe’s first offensive possession — and Villanova turned both turnovers into touchdowns.
“They’re a good team, we knew that,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “But when you play a good team you better play pretty well, execute pretty well, and not make mistakes, and not get penalties and not turn it over and things like that. And we did that, so we’re on the short end of the stick.”
While the taunting penalty swung momentum in the first half, holding and personal foul penalties killed two second half drives for the Tribe.
“We were moving the ball when we weren’t shooting ourselves in the foot, putting ourselves in long-yardage situations,” Laycock said. “When we weren’t doing that, we were pretty good.”
The Tribe ran 86 plays from scrimmage, 34 more than Villanova, and gained 472 total yards. Yet the team struggled inside the 20-yard line on both sides of the ball. While the offensive was unable to punch the ball in for scores, the Tribe’s defense yielded red zone touchdowns on each of Villanova’s three trips inside the 20 yard line.
“We prepared this week, and they came out and executed everything that they do, and they did it well today,” Wells said. “We just weren’t on top of our game.”
The Tribe returns to action next week when the College travels to Boston, Mass. to take on the 0-5 Northeastern Huskies. Senior defensive tackle Sean Lissemore said the team would put Saturday’s game behind them.
“We’ve just got to go 1-0 every week,” Lissemore said. “We’ve got to approach it like it’s a clean slate, that’s it.”