The final scene told the story: As the waning minutes of the College’s season-opening road contest against Virginia ticked down, what had once been a hostile Scott Stadium crowd of 54,000 was reduced to a fraction of that number. They were clustered predominantly in the southwest corner of the field, dressed not in the orange sundresses and ties of the Cavalier faithful, but in the green and gold of the Tribe. And they were going crazy.
For the first time in 23 years, an upstart Tribe squad had defeated their larger in-state rivals in a game that will resonate far beyond Williamsburg. As the College jogged off the Cavaliers’ home field to celebrate with their fans, the clock hit zero with the scoreboard locked at a decisive 26-14 final score.
“We are incredibly proud of the effort our players put forth tonight,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “We showed poise, and our players were extremely smart in the decisions they made. We played very hard, and it’s a tremendous win for us.”
The victory was the first for the Tribe over an FBS school since upsetting Temple in 1998 and the first over Virginia since a 41-37 victory in 1986.
The game was sealed with two minutes and 39 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the College nursing a 19-14 lead. As the Cavaliers attempted to put together a last-ditch drive to salvage their season opener, redshirt freshman cornerback B.W. Webb, in his first career start for the Tribe, stepped in front of a Jameel Sewell pass, ripped the ball from a Virginia receiver, and raced untouched into the Tribe end zone. The interception was Webb’s third of the night, the defense’s seventh forced turnover, and clinched the final margin.
“We were in cover two, coach always told me to watch the play and the guy came right into my area,” Webb said. “It’s almost like a dream. Everything happened at the right time.”
The play punctuated a night that belonged firmly to the Tribe defense. The College held Virginia to a mere 269 yards of total offense, notching four interceptions and recovering three fumbles. Thirteen of 16 Cavalier possessions ended in either a three and out or a turnover, and Virginia coach Al Groh was forced to use three different quarterbacks in an attempt to generate any semblance of offensive momentum.
That dominance allowed Laycock to utilize a cautious offensive game plan. The coach was content to settle for field goals, eat up the clock, avoid turnovers and wait for the Cavaliers to make mistakes.
“I didn’t want to put us in a bad position, so I played it a little safe,” Laycock said. “We were going to be smart, we ran the draw, ran the trap in some situations. I had a lot of confidence in our defense, and we have a pretty good punter.”
The Tribe got off to a tepid start as Virginia got on the board only three minutes into the first quarter. Cavalier starting quarterback Vic Hall scrambled 34-yards around the right side into the end zone, quickly putting his team up 7-0. After the College answered with a five-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback R.J. Archer to senior tight end Rob Varno, Virginia scored again, with Sewell capping a 10-play, 84-yard drive with an eight-yard touchdown run.
But after that point, the Cavaliers would not enter Tribe territory again until their final drive of the game in garbage time.
Meanwhile, the Tribe offense steadily plucked away with field goals.
After a shaky start, senior kicker Brian Pate drilled four consecutive kicks as the College built a 19-14 lead.
From there, it was left to the defense and Webb’s heroics to clinch the win.
The redshirt freshman was far from the only standout for the Tribe.
Senior defensive end Adrian Tracy was a force, repeatedly penetrating the Virginia backfield while recording ten tackles. Linebackers sophomore Jake Trantin and junior Evan Francks were equally active, combining for 16 tackles and recovering three fumbles between them while shutting down the Virginia spread. Punter David Miller was nearly perfect, consistently pinning the Cavaliers deep with eight punts for an average of 44.4 yards. And Archer, while posting seemingly middling numbers in normal context, executed Laycock’s game plan perfectly, completing 23 of 45 passes for 184 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
“The coaches prepared us very well, we lined up well, and we just played,” Archer said. “We were in the right place at the right time, and we made plays when we needed to.”
It was a plan that left the College with a signature win to start its season.
After the game, Laycock summed up his second career win over the Cavaliers next to a loudly celebrating postgame locker room.
“I think we made a name for ourselves, and I think we are going to get everyone’s best shot now,” Laycock said. “We want to be out front. We are going to go back and do the things that got us here.”
Then, in his typically laconic fashion, he allowed a brief moment of enjoyment.
“Well, it’s the best [win] I’ve had today,” he said.