Through 30 minutes of William and Mary’s 14-13 defeat to Villanova in the FCS semifinals Friday, the Tribe was in control. The nation’s top-rated rush defense had held the potent Wildcat attack to 70 yards of total offense, and a 98-yard pass from quarterback R.J. Archer to wide receiver Cam Dohse midway through the second quarter had helped the Tribe take a 10-0 advantage into the half.
But the Tribe could only keep the Wildcats and their big play ability in check for so long. Villanova wide receiver Matt Szczur, taking the snap as quarterback, broke through the Tribe defense untouched and raced into the end zone for a 68-yard score six minutes into the second half.
On Villanova’s next possession, the Wildcats utilized a fake punt on fourth and eight from the Tribe 46-yard-line, running a reverse to Szczur, who picked up nine yards and the first down. The play set up quarterback Chris Whitney’s go ahead one-yard touchdown sneak nine plays later. The score, which also came on a fourth down play, give the Wildcats a 14-13 lead.
Szczur’s scamper was the first touchdown the Tribe had surrendered in the FCS playoffs, and it kicked off a monster second half for Szczur, who tallied 92 rushing yards in the second frame.
“I mean he’s a playmaker, no doubt,” defensive end Adrian Tracy said. “Going in we definitely had to key on him and realize that he could make or break your game. The first half we were able to make some plays on him, and in the second half it kind of dwindled away.”
Tracy and the Tribe defense had stopped Villanova on eight consecutive third down attempts to open the game before the fake punt, but allowed the Wildcats to convert all three attempts the team made on fourth down.
Besides the 98-yard pass play, the Tribe offense struggled to sustain drives. Running back Jonathan Grimes averaged just 2.7 yards per carry and totaled 59 rushing yards. The unit was nine of 18 on third downs, but the offense possessed the ball for just two minutes in the fourth quarter.
“In the second half we couldn’t get a good stop on them, couldn’t get a consistent stop,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “They kept the ball and they kept control. We wanted to be the ones controlling the ball, and they were the ones controlling the ball.”
After the game, Laycock emphasized that the playoff loss, while disappointing, didn’t render the season a failure.
“When you head into the playoffs, you’ve got to understand, it’s only one team that is going to end the year happy, only one team that’s going to end the year without ending on a losing note,” Laycock said. “That’s part of the deal. It’s not a great feeling, but that’s part of what you are undertaking by going through the playoffs.”
Dohse had a coming-out party of sorts for the Tribe, hauling in five passes for 148 yards, including the 98-yard score and a couple key third down conversions. Despite the big game, Dohse expressed disappointment in falling to Villanova for the second time this season. The Wildcats beat the Tribe 28-17 on Oct. 3.
“We beat ourselves in a lot of situations,” Dohse said. “We didn’t convert in some of the times we should have. Against a great team like this you’ve got to make all the big plays when they are there. It’s certainly not any consolation, we’re still leaving with the same feeling we did last time.”
The loss marked the end of Archer and Tracy’s collegiate careers. Tracy leaves the school as the Tribe’s all-time leader in sacks. But like Dohse, he wasn’t taking comfort in the close defeat.
“All season long, from the very beginning, us captains that stayed for the summer realized we had something special brewing, and we wanted to capitalize on every opportunity,” Tracy said. “For the most part, we did with an 11-3 record, but those three losses are just — I mean, you are a competitor, you hate losing.”
Laycock had a more balanced outlook.
“When you look at it and you say, you’re in the final four, you say you’ve won 11 ball games, that’s a pretty good year, I think that’s a good year no matter who you are, where you are or what you’re playing,” Laycock said. “Given the fact that we play in this league, and the fact that we’ve gone and won two playoff games, and we’re playing in the semifinals, and we lose by one point on the road in a short week. When you look at all the things and you roll it all together, it’s a great year. It could have been better, sure. But sometimes you’ve got to sit back and put things in perspective.”