William and Mary kicked off a new season of football to high expectations Saturday, and despite an offseason’s worth of changes, last year’s themes remained true. A ferocious defense harried a developing offense all afternoon, as the Green squad defeated its Gold counterparts 10-7.
That continuity is a good thing for the College; a standout defense — ranked second in all of FCS last season — proved it had not lost a step over the winter, despite graduating key playmakers.
“I was really pleased with them picking up slack,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “Those guys were not complacent, they raised their level and they took charge. We didn’t really have any significant drop-off.”
The defense racked up three sacks and an interception over the 28 minutes of gametime, yielding only 52 rushing yards.
“They’re awfully good,” sophomore quarterback Brent Caprio said. “It’s tough going against those guys, but it definitely makes us better in the long run. They bring the pressure, they put us in tough situations.”
The defense stole the show from a heated quarterback battle, in which Caprio and junior transfer Mike Paulus are the front-runners to replace departed starter R.J. Archer. With the signal-callers under frequent pressure and unable to get into a rhythm due to frequent changes, the afternoon allowed little in the way of clarity.
“I thought they did some good things and there were some plays they could have made better,” Laycock said. “That’s the way the spring has gone, until we get more into preseason, it’s going to be hard to tell [who will win the starting job.]”
Paulus completed three of 10 passes for 37 yards and a touchdown, while Caprio countered with nine of 15 passing for 87 yards. Each missed several open throws, but showed ample promise.
On third and goal from the 27-yard line, Paulus stood tall in the pocket under a blitz and rocketed a bullet to senior wideout Chase Hill at the goalline for the score. Two plays earlier, he showed evidence of his distinguished pedigree — Paulus was a four-star recruit as a high school senior — launching a pass off his back foot with a defender in his face. The attempt fell incomplete, but had the crowd buzzing.
“I’m not really worried about how I’m throwing the ball,” Paulus said. “I need to work on the little things, like getting the signals and putting in the plays. I needed to clean up that part and I think I did a good job today.”
Caprio showed good accuracy and a strong pocket presence in his minutes under center.
“We got off to a slow start, but I thought I made some plays on the last drive,” he said. “I thought I had a good showing this spring, but I thought I had some things I need to work on. I’m going to go into summer and I still have all my goals [of winning the job] in place.”
Several underclassmen used the scrimmage to show their progress over the past year. Sophomore wideout C.J. Thomas hinted of a major presence this fall with an impressive showing, catching four balls for 60 yards and adding a 13-yard touchdown run on a reverse.
“C.J. had a great spring,” Caprio said. “He’s going to be one of our receivers down the road, and he made a name for himself.”
Elsewhere, new faces on the defensive line and secondary proved that the College will suffer minimally from the losses of seniors Adrian Tracy, Sean Lissemore and David Caldwell.
Junior Terrell Wells, a converted cornerback, looked confident at the safety position, while junior Jake O’Connor and redshirt freshman T.K. Hester featured well at safety and cornerback.
On the defensive line, senior Brian Jean-Pierre and junior Harold Robertson contained the Tribe rushing attack — which was missing starters junior Jonathan Grimes and senior Courtland Marriner — bottling up the space between the hash marks and attacking the backfield.
“I know we lost a lot on defensive line, but if you saw those guys up front today, we’ve got some weapons,” senior linebacker Evan Francks said.
Perhaps most significantly, the scrimmage capped a spring mostly devoid of major injuries. That’s just fine for the College, as the squad seeks to make a return trip to the FCS playoffs this fall.
“They’ve got a good tradition established right now, and they want to keep it going,” Laycock said.