For over two decades, the College of William and Mary has dominated Virginia Military Institute, winning the last 22 contests of their annual series and routinely blowing out the Keydets. This year, in the College’s home opener, the story was no different.
The Tribe ran roughshod over its overmatched visitors, downing VMI 52-17 to improve its record to 1-1.
Saturday night at Zable Stadium, 10,624 fans saw the Tribe jump out to a 24-3 halftime advantage after overcoming a pair of early turnovers to post 21 straight points.
“When we weren’t beating ourselves, we were pretty good today,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said.
Powered by the running back tandem of sophomore Terrence Riggins and freshman Jonathan Grimes (both of whom are filling in for injured starters senior DeBrian Holmes and sophomore Courtland Marriner), the College racked up 398 yards on the ground, while senior quarterback Jake Phillips chipped in for 13 of 18 passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Despite the final margin, the contest began erratically for the Tribe. After the defense forced a three and out on the Keydets’ initial possession, the College’s offense took over deep in its own territory. On the unit’s third play from scrimmage, senior wide receiver Elliott Mack broke free on a deep route, but Phillips’ throw fell short of its target, resulting in his third interception of the season.
On the Tribe’s next offensive possession, the Keydet defense came up with a second big turnover, as a Phillips’ pass was tipped at the line and fell into the hands of linebacker Kyle Nikmard.
But a swarming Tribe defense repeatedly stifled VMI’s option offense, and Laycock turned to his running game to put the College on the board.
With 1:51 remaining in the first quarter, Grimes, who earned CAA rookie of the week honors for his 97-yard, two touchdown performance, took a handoff around the right side and then bounced off several tacklers on his way to a 29-yard touchdown run. Several minutes later, Phillips found junior tight end Rob Varno at the goal line to put the Tribe up 14-0; the rout was on.
Throughout the night, the College’s sturdy offensive line dominated VMI’s undersized front four, opening up running lanes for Tribe backs. Riggins, the game’s leading rusher, piled up 180 yards on 15 carries, including a 53-yard ramble off the left end to open the second half.
“I had fun out there,” Riggins said. “The line was blocking really well. The receivers were blocking really well, too, and that gives you the extra edge.”
Defensively, the College held the Keydets to just 287 yards of total offense. Junior safety David Caldwell was everywhere, notching 10 tackles and then forcing and recovering a fumble. Senior cornerback Derek Cox routinely disrupted the VMI running game while recording six tackles, two for a loss.
“VMI is one of those teams that when you play against them, you really don’t have to play real fast, you just have to play right.” Cox said. “We didn’t want them to score 17 points, we wanted to hold them to zero.”
Although the final margin was decisive, the contest left the Tribe with plenty of room for improvement: The College turned the ball over four times and committed eight penalties for 80 yards.
“We got away with [those mistakes] tonight, but we won’t get away with it against some other people,” Laycock said.