In his dorm room, junior quarterback Mike Paulus watched.
The North Carolina transfer, who will start for William and Mary in place of injured senior Mike Callahan Saturday against Villanova, was not officially a member of the squad when the Tribe last faced the Wildcats in the FCS national semifinals.
So instead of standing behind Head Coach Jimmye Laycock ’70 on the sideline, Paulus sat in his dorm room in Chapel Hill, N.C. with several of his soon-to-be ex-teammates. From 400 miles away, he still felt the College’s pain.
“I don’t think I quite understood Villanova-William and Mary at that time, but now I do. I know what the rivalry is,” Paulus said. “Since I’ve watched that game, I’ve wanted to play Villanova extremely badly.”
On the sidelines, sophomore linebacker Dante Cook fumed.
Two plays into the second half of that same game, Villanova wideout Matt Szczur raced 62 yards for a touchdown on a fake punt. Cook, a special teams standout last season, was just feet from making a stop that possibly could have extended the College’s season.
“I had a pretty good bead on it, and I was probably a millisecond away [from tackling Szczur],” Cook said. “It was a 50-yard dead sprint across the field. I really want to have that back.”
Memories such as those linger among the returning members of the 2010 Tribe squad, as it seeks to avenge the heartbreak of 2009. Saturday, 10 months later, the College will finally get the chance to rid the all too familiar emotions associated with the visiting Wildcats — pain, disappointment, heartbreak.
The game will be the Tribe’s latest chance to purge a frustrating six-game losing streak to its conference foe.
“These guys want this win really bad. Coach Laycock wants this one really bad,” Paulus said. “I know they’ve beaten William and Mary the last six times they’ve played and twice last year, so I want to go out there and play my best for these guys and get this win for them.”
Even the normally staid Laycock laments last year’s semifinal matchup as the one that got away.
“Very disappointing,” he said of the College’s 14-13 playoff defeat. “I felt like we had every bit as good a team as Villanova, and to come that close to playing for a national championship and lose was difficult.”
Rarely will any team be as driven and tenacious as the College on Saturday afternoon, as the squad draws on a host of perspectives in a game that has been bolded, highlighted and circled on the calendar for 10 months.
Overall, the 2010 squad should not be confused with its predecessor that made the FCS semifinals, and with change often comes a blunting of the memories from years past. But the College’s youngsters have been imbued with the emotions of their upperclassmen, and those feelings encompass more than just Villanova.
“As we’ve built into a bigger program over the last few years, I don’t think we have respect,” Cook said. “We’ve got to go out and take that respect as well as we can.”
Saturday, Cook, like the rest of the Tribe, will get his chance.