The biggest storyline heading into the week for the Tribe will, rightfully, be the fact that junior quarterback Mike Paulus will make his first home start for the Tribe on Saturday against No. 1 Villanova.
It’s an interesting storyline, but not an unprecedented one in William and Mary’s recent history.
In 2008, an inexperienced junior quarterback named R.J. Archer made the first home start of his collegiate career against Villanova. Filling in for the injured Jake Phillips, Archer went 21 for 37, throwing for 307 yards and a touchdown.
Despite Archer’s best efforts, the Tribe still fell 35-28 to the Wildcats, as the College could not rally late.
“I thought he did a good job of maintaining his poise back there,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said at the time. “I thought he handled himself well and ran the offense well.
Side note number one: it’s interesting to see some of the familiar names from that game story. A freshman at the time, Jonathan Grimes broke the game open with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Sophomore linebacker Jake Trantin was second on the team with seven tackles. Sophomore Matt Poms wrote the column that appeared next to the game story. What ever happened to that third guy?
Two years earlier, junior quarterback Mike Potts made his first start of the season at home against Villanova, throwing for 197 yards while going 12 of 24 on completions. Potts had already started five games the season before, and had made two starts that year against Massachusetts and No. 8 James Madison on the road.
Just like in 2008, the Tribe played the Wildcats closely but lost after a touchdown gave Villanova a 35-31 lead in the last 35 seconds of the game.
“The loss was disappointing,” Laycock said at the time. “We put ourselves in a position to win but we weren’t able to hold on. It was a tough situation, but we did not play as well as we needed to.”
Side note number two: no matter what the year, Laycock’s quotes rarely ever change in the course of his 31-year tenure at the College, proving he is either the master at saying nothing or that Jimmye Laycock is the Highlander.
Saturday’s game is also not the first time the Tribe has taken on the No. 1 team in the country during the program’s modern era. In 2008, the College fell 48-21 at No. 1 JMU. Three years earlier in 2005, the Tribe defeated top-ranked New Hampshire at home 42-10.
The last time the College took on a top-ranked Villanova team was in 1997, when the Tribe fell 20-13 after driving down to the Villanova 21-yard line with 17 seconds remaining.
Senior running back Alvin Porch rushed for 123 yards on 23 carries, scoring one touchdown in the loss.
“It was a hard loss, but I can’t question or complain about this team’s effort, Laycock said at the time. “Offensively, it was a question of making plays. You can play hard, but you’ve gotta pull something off.”
How do these facts portend to Saturday’s matchup? Who knows. But if history is any indication, the Tribe will have to fight it out in the final minutes if it wants to win this one.