The 119-game history of this rivalry has never seen a game quite like this. When no. 5 William and Mary travels to face no. 4 Richmond Saturday much more than the traditional I-64 trophy — reimagined this year as the Capital Cup — will be at stake.
The winner will earn at least a share of the CAA title and improve its chance of earning one of four valuable postseason seeds, guaranteeing home field advantage in the FCS playoffs.
It will be the last game played in historic University of Richmond Stadium, the home of the Spiders’ football program for nearly 80 years.
And it will be an opportunity for the College to avenge last season’s dramatic 23-20 overtime loss to Richmond, a defeat in the season’s final game that proved fatal to the Tribe’s postseason chances.
“It should be a heck of a matchup,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “I’m excited to be part of it.”
But beyond the hype, the Tribe’s chief test when it emerges from the locker room Saturday will be to ignore the game’s massive implications and focus on a very good Richmond football team. Both squads enter the game at 9-1 and tied for first in the CAA. The Spiders spent the majority of the year ranked first in the nation after winning a national championship last season. A loss to then-no. 4 Villanova is the only blemish on their record.
“They probably have 14 or 15 fifth-year seniors on their starting group, offense and defense,” Laycock said. “They’ve been in a lot of tough games. They know how to play and they know how to win.”
With the top two run defenses in the conference, the matchup could come down to a battle at the line of scrimmage. Both teams put a strong emphasis on running the football, with the College’s 177.9 rushing yards per game clocking in just ahead of Richmond’s 164.2
“When we do win this game, it will probably be won in the trenches,” sophomore tailback Jonathan Grimes said. “But they’re tough; their front four is really good. They are a really disciplined defense and they’re going to be on their A-game.”
With 78 more rushing yards, Grimes can become the first Tribe running back since 1998 to total 1,000 yards on the season, averaging 94.2 yards per game.
Defensively, the College will be charged with stopping quarterback Eric Ward, as well as running back Justin Forte, who ranks second in the CAA in rushing yardage.
“They have strengths at pretty much all their positions on the offense,” senior defensive end Adrian Tracy said. “But the bottom line comes down to effort and execution, and that’s what we are planning on doing — play with relentless effort and leave it all on the field.”
Fueling that effort will undoubtedly be memories of last years’ defeat to Richmond, which extended the College’s current four-game losing streak to the Spiders. After ending a similar losing streak against James Madison earlier this season, the Tribe’s seniors are poised to end their participation in the rivalry on a high note.
“It’s definitely been used as motivation,” Tracy said. “Myself and a lot of other guys have never beaten this team. One thing we would have liked to have had by this point is a conference championship, and with a win we would be able to do that and kill two birds with one stone.”
A win would allow the College to either split the CAA title with no. 2 Villanova, or win it outright if the Wildcats fall to no. 25 Delaware later Saturday.
And no matter the past defeats or title implications of the contest, the age-old rivalry between Richmond and the College still burns fiercely, even for a coach entering his fourth decade in charge.
“[Last year’s game] seems like a long time ago now. This is a different team, and a different year,” Laycock said. “I want to win just for the sake of winning. That’s good enough.”