Over the past few seasons, William and Mary’s annual matchup with Villanova has routinely produced high drama football from two perennial national championship contenders.
The 2011 edition of the heated CAA rivalry had a very different tone Saturday, as senior tailback Jonathan Grimes powered the College past a young, inexperienced Wildcat squad, 20-16 in Philadelphia.
“I thought it was a good hard-fought game,” head coach Jimmye Laycock said. “We played very physical and I thought that was our trademark today, on both sides of the ball. We showed some poise and got a solid win against a good program.”
The game was a slow-moving back-and-forth affair before senior kicker Drake Kuhn nailed a 23-yard field goal with 14:24 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The College clung to a four-point lead for the majority of the fourth quarter, but Villanova mounted a late comeback drive, storming 60 yards down the field to the Tribe’s 23 yard line. The Wildcats appeared poised to take the lead before junior cornerback B.W. Webb intercepted Villanova quarterback Christian Culicerto, halting the drive and sealing the College’s win.
After a subpar performance against James Madison the week before, the Tribe’s rushing attack rebounded against the Wildcats. The College’s tailbacks pounded the ball on the ground, gaining 173 rushing yards on 49 carries. The mix of Grimes, who has been known as a workhorse during his time at the College, and freshman tailback Keith McBride, a smaller, shiftier back, helped the Tribe out-maneuver the Villanova defense. Grimes rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries, and McBride added 45 yards on 11 carries. Additionally, Grimes’ performance on Saturday moved him into second place on the College’s career rushing list with 3,552 yards, just 192 yards shy of the all-time record.
“You can’t say enough about how hard Jon [Grimes] ran, because we just kept putting it on him,” Laycock said.
Saturday’s matchup also saw the continued emergence of sophomore quarterback Mike Graham. Graham, who began to show flashes of brilliance in the second half against JMU, managed the offense efficiently in only his second start under center for the College. Graham finished 13 for 24 for 171 yards and an interception.
The Tribe defense turned in another solid performance as well, yielding just 68 yards on the ground to the Wildcats, while Culicerto and the Villanova passing attack went 15 of 24 for 132 yards, one interception and one touchdown. Junior linebacker Jabrel Mines registered two sacks for a total of 16 yards, while senior safety Brian Thompson led the College with eight tackles.
“We knew we had to be tough on third down, and we knew we had to tackle well,” senior linebacker Jake Trantin said. “I was really proud of the way the guys up front played.”
Particularly impressive was the Tribe defense’s ability to hold Villanova following College turnovers. The Wildcat defense and special teams unit created turnovers deep in College territory, but Villanova was unable to punch it in as a result.
The Wildcats’ Joey Harmon intercepted a tipped Graham pass at the College’s 24-yard line in the second quarter to set up a Villanova field goal. Later, at the beginning of the third quarter, miscommunication between the long snapper and Kuhn caused a botched punt. As a result, Villanova took over at the 10-yard line and converted another field goal.
“We had a couple of bad breaks go against us early, like that pass of Mike’s that got deflected and intercepted — that’s just one of those things that happens, and then we got moving on the punt and got hit by the snap,” Laycock said. “But our guys did a nice job not panicking and overreacting to the things that went against us.”
The College will look to keep improving this weekend in a tough road contest against CAA front-runner Delaware in Newark, Del.
“All I worry about is us continuing to get better and continuing to improve,” Laycock said. “We showed improvement today over last week, and in some areas, there is still a lot to improve. We are playing hard and we are playing with more confidence.”