Football: Tough second-half begins Saturday

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October 21, 2010

11:57 PM

When William and Mary’s 2010 schedule was released, a midseason bye week provided a clear delineation of the squad’s slate of games. Before lay a primetime matchup with defending national champion Villanova, but also a string of games against weak non-conference opponents, as well as lower-tier CAA schools.

Now the bye week has come and gone, and there are no easy games left on the Tribe’s schedule. The College’s remaining five contests are comprised of four teams ranked in the top 16 in the FCS, plus ACC-foe North Carolina, which currently comes in at 29th in the FBS AP poll.

“The bye was perfect timing,” junior tailback Jonathan Grimes said. “For this home stretch, we’ve got to get up for every game. Every one is going to be really big.”

The biggest of those matchups occurs Saturday, as No. 2 Delaware comes to Zable with a perfect 7-0 record and a high-octane offense led by an NFL-prospect at quarterback. Add in Homecoming weekend, the usual rivalry between the two schools and a pair of top-five rankings, and Saturday’s contest could add up to one of the biggest FCS stages of the year.

“It’s a great rivalry,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock ’70 said. “We’ve had some great, great games with them in the past. But we’ve got to get ready to play a very good team. They’ve got just about everybody back from last year’s team, plus the addition of [freshman tailback Andrew] Pierce, who’s a great runner. They’ve got a lot of things going for them.”

Pierce, a dynamic, shifty running back, has made the biggest difference for Head Coach K.C. Keeler between last year’s 6-5 squad and this season’s undefeated squad. The New Jersey native has racked up 880 yards and 10 touchdowns on the year, while being held under 96 yards only once.

With the Tribe allowing a shaky 124 yards rushing per game, stopping Pierce will be a focal point for a defense that has improved markedly since getting gashed for big rushing yardage early in the season.

“Last year [Delaware] had a pretty good running game, but Pierce has made them two-dimensional,” sophomore linebacker Jabrel Mines said. “We’re going to be focusing a lot on the run this week.”

Offensively, Grimes and the College will go up against a Blue Hen defense that has looked impregnable thus far. So far this season, Delaware has not allowed over 17 points in a game, although the squad has yet to play against the programs ranked in the top half of the CAA in scoring offense.

Junior quarterback Mike Paulus will need to be particularly wary of Delaware’s ability to force turnovers. The Blue Hens have created 19 turnovers this year, ranking at the top of the conference with a plus-11 turnover margin in seven games.

Perhaps most concerning, the Tribe will have to contend with lingering injuries at several key positions. Senior wideout Cam Dohse remains out with a concussion, while senior punter David Miller is questionable after missing the last several weeks due to a leg injury. Sophomore wide receiver Tyler Bailey served as the College’s emergency punter against Villanova and Rhode Island, and while he managed a respectable 38.8 yards per kick, his production is a far cry from that of All-CAA honoree Miller.

Overall, the game will mark a significant opportunity for the College to solidify its place in the FCS postseason, while gaining significant respect on the national stage.

“It’s another big step for us,” Mines said. “When we beat Villanova, a lot of people didn’t expect that. People wrote us off after losing to UMass. But we look for opportunities like this where we can prove ourselves, and we really want to show people nationally that we are a good team.”

The game constitutes the highest combined ranking between two teams in the College’s history, and could play an outsized role in postseason seeding and the CAA title race down the stretch.

“The stakes are high, and there are going to be a lot of people. This is probably going to be one of the biggest games we’re going to have all season,” Mines said. “If you’re not ready for this one, then I don’t know why you play football.”

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