Amidst the litany of preseason polls that precede every college football season, there was considerable reason for excitement a few months ago for fans of William and Mary and Richmond alike. Both traditional CAA powerhouses were ranked highly — the Spiders were ranked as high as No. 7 in the country in one poll, and Phil Steele had the Tribe slotted at No. 1 in the nation.
Over the course of the past few months, however, things haven’t worked out for either team. Richmond enters the quest for the Capital Cup with a 3-7 overall record, including a dismal 0-7 conference record. The Tribe isn’t in much better shape, having recorded only one more win at 4-6 and having lost its last three games.
So, as the regular season concludes with Saturday’s slate of games, and with both teams coming in with sub-.500 records, one simple question remains: Does this game actually mean anything?
The answer, in short, is a resounding yes.
Sure, neither team is going to be playing for a national championship, much less making the playoffs, but there is one key factor driving this game that makes me more excited for it than any other game this season — it’s a rivalry game.
Before I get too carried away, I’ll admit, William and Mary isn’t really known for its heated sports rivalries.
You can ask College students about a variety of different hot button issues – St. George Tucker Hall, the three person rule, Banner, the Daily Grind— and you will receive a barrage of impassioned answers, but you won’t necessarily get the appropriate amount of passion when discussing some of the College’s CAA rivals.
But this game is different.
This weekend’s matchup, dubbed the oldest football rivalry in the South, has often served as a fitting conclusion to two respective great seasons and has often carried enormous playoff and conference championship implications. Just last year, the Tribe clinched the CAA title against Richmond, and the previous two matchups have been critical in determining playoff seeding scenarios.
Two years ago, I watched in agony as quarterback R.J. Archer ’09 threw an interception with 14 seconds left, and Richmond kicker Andrew Howard converted a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give the Spiders a 13-10 victory. It was awful to watch, but it remains the best football game I have seen since I’ve been here.
Although both of those 2009 squads were extremely talented and went deep into the playoffs, there is no reason to expect that this year’s edition couldn’t be just as thrilling.
“It’s a pretty intense rivalry,” senior defensive tackle Harold Robertson said. “Every year you can expect both teams to come out and play hard and put everything on the line … When I was coming in here, the first couple of years, we were on the losing end, but last year we came out and got a nice victory, and it felt pretty good. We want to keep the momentum and tradition alive.”
Moreover, both teams have big play capabilities that could make for an exciting game.
Richmond enters Saturday’s contest with one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, senior Aaron Corp. Corp, a transfer from Southern California, has had a good season, penning three 300-yard passing games this season, and is ranked second in the CAA in yards per game.
Corp frequently benefits from one of the best wideouts in Richmond history, senior Tre Gray. Gray became the Spiders’s all-time leader in receptions and yards earlier this season and is second among all active players in those same categories. But as good as the Spiders’ air attack is, its running game is suspect, leaving Richmond prone to one-dimensional play.
While Richmond’s strength is through the air, the College’s is on the ground. Saturday marks the final time senior tailback Jonathan Grimes will suit up for the Tribe.
Grimes has broken countless Tribe career records, and he will most likely go down as one of the best to ever play tailback in Williamsburg. He is the active NCAA leader in career all-purpose yards and ranks second in rushing yards. Grimes had a career-high 38 carries last week against Old Dominion, and all signs point to Grimes having another career day against Richmond.
Another interesting element to this game is that like any lottery team, the Tribe is also playing for the future.
As steady as Grimes has been, all eyes will be on sophomore quarterback Brent Caprio, who is likely auditioning for the starting role next season after fellow sophomore Mike Graham went down a few weeks ago with a season ending injury against Towson.
“Offensively, we have steadily gotten better,” head coach Jimmye Laycock said. “The quarterback position had been a little unsteady for us, but Brent Caprio has put together a couple of games back to back and has shown good improvement.”
It will be interesting to see how Caprio plays and if his performance will be enough to help his status for next fall. Look for some of the Tribe’s younger tailbacks and receivers to get ample playing time in this game as well.
As disappointing as this season has been for both teams, Saturday’s game represents a chance for both squads to end their respective seasons on a high note in a rivalry atmosphere.
“Last year, the game had big playoff implications, and other years it has come down to that,” Laycock said. “This year, it’s not. Both teams have struggled at times, but both teams want to end the season with a win; they want to get better. It should be a great rivalry game.”