Well, that one’s gonna sting for a little while. The Tribe came out firing in the first half, even going up ten points on the Cavaliers. But ultimately, W&M was unable to complete the comeback and fell just short of victory. Our in-state rivals took advantage of some big plays, as well as a few key William and Mary mistakes to earn the win. However, there were plenty of bright spots for W&M in this one; Tribe fans everywhere should be expecting this team to break the drought and make the FCS playoffs this year.
Game Summary: The offense opened up the game by scoring on a very well executed five-play, two-minute drive via a Steve Cluley bomb to DeVonte Dedmon. Cluley tossed a 41 yard strike into the end zone that bounced off of a UVA cornerback and into the belly of a falling Dedmon. No one in the crowd thought he came down with it, but after review, the Tribe went up 7-0 in Charlottesville. Cluley started the game sharp, and would eventually complete 23 of his 36 pass attempts.
Soon after, UVA answered with a game tying touchdown. On the ensuing drive, the Tribe found themselves in a 4th and three situation on the Cavalier 37 yard line. Too far out to attempt a field goal, and just close enough to the sticks to go for it, Laycock kept his forces on the field. On the play, Cluley rolled to his right, and found no one open. Looking back to his left at the last second he found a wide open Andrew Caskin, who caught the ball and sprinted into the end zone. A gutsy call by Laycock, and an even better execution by the offense. At the half, and a couple field goals later, W&M found themslves neck and neck with the Cavaliers, trailing by just one point, 20-21.
As well as the offense played in the first half, they sputtered out of the halftime break. William and Mary was given a golden opportunity after their special teams recovered an onside kick. That’s right, a W&M on side kick to start the second half. It happened so quickly that if you blinked, you most likely missed it–and who would blame you, UVA’s own players missed it too! However, W&M went three and out on the drive, all but nullifying the onside kick recovery.
Overall, the Tribe was outscored 0-14 in the third quarter–a stat that would eventually prove too much to overcome. In the 4th, the Tribe was able to gain momentum on a 18 play, 75 yard drive, as W&M again went for it on 4th down at the UVA 1 yard line. With a touchdown, the Green and Gold would bring the score within one touchdown. On a fake reverse turned pass, wide receiver Christian Reeves threw the ball to a waiting Steve Cluley. However, the ball was in the air far too long, allowing the UVA defenders to close in on Cluley before he could haul in the pass and take it across the end zone. Incomplete pass. Turnover on downs.
The Tribe would get the ball back after forcing a three and out on the following UVA possession, which ulatimely resulted in a safety by way of a blocked UVA punt inside their own end zone. DeAndre Houston-Carson, known for his ridiculous kick/punt blocking skills, dove in front of UVA’s punter and batted the ball out of the end zone–resulting in 2 points and possession for the Tribe.
W&M then drove down the field on a 10 play 49 yard drive, resulting in a five yard touchdown pass to Dedmon, his second of the game–Tribe 29 UVA 35. As the final minutes dwindled down, the Tribe defense again held the Cavaliers, giving the offense one more chance. Down just 6 points and driving inside two minutes, W&M needed a touchdown and an extra point to win it. However, after driving down all the way to the Virginia 30 yard line, the offense failed to convert on a 4th and 10, ultimately leaving Scott Stadium with a tough loss.
The Good: Offensively, this William & Mary team proved it can hang with FBS-caliber talent. Against an FBS, Power 5 conference school (yes, even though it was only UVA), the offensive unit put up an impressive 29 points. The Tribe amassed 371 total yards, while UVA totaled 373–almost literally dead even. In terms of time of possession, W&M had the ball for almost 35 minutes, while UVA only had it for 25. The Tribe also won the turnover battle 2-0 (on two interceptions).
Cluley was able to spread the ball around the field to all of his receivers, running back Mikal Abdul Saboor finished with 100 yards rushing, and the special teams kicking/punting unit performed very well. Kicker Nick Dorka converted on two clutch field goals in the first half, of 21 and 43 yards, while punter Hunter Windmuller averaged an insane 56.2 yards per punt on four punts.
The Bad: Our special teams unit was woefully bad at defending against the big play ability of Virginia’s speedy returners. UVA averaged an eye popping 41.3 yards per punt return on three punts. One of those resulted in a 74 yard touchdown return in the third quarter, again, the quarter that UVA outscored W&M 0-14. Let’s hope that this was an anomaly, and that FBS UVA was simply too big and fast on special teams for FCS W&M to keep up with on punts. This is something that the Tribe will need to correct quickly, before the team gets deep into its CAA schedule.
We did not expect DeVonte Dedmon to play in this game, as he was rumored to be recovering from mono. But he played, and we’re happy he did. Every now and then Dedmon limped on the field; similarly, quarterback Steve Cluley was knocked around against UVA, and was a little slow getting up every now and then. Both players finished the game. Additionally, running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor was brought off the field late in the game due to injury. He walked off the field under his own power, and we hope the top rusher in the CAA is back on the field next Saturday. OL Chris Durant was out in this contest and replaced by Jared Templeton.
Unfortunately for the Tribe defense, both linebackers Zach Fetters and Ian Haislip left the game with injury. Currently, we don’t know the severity of these injuries, but Haislip left the field to the locker room with assistance during the first drive of the game. Fetters joined him soon after and had to leave the field. This is a strong blow to the defense, as our linebacking corps was supposed to be one of our strongest units on D this season; we hope that one or both of these guys will be ready to go next week.
Around the CAA: JMU blew out Albany, Stony Brook knocked off UNH in a blow out, and Richmond torched VMI, but the most important news came out of Villanova. Walter Payton award winning QB John Robertson has reportedly injured his PCL, and may be out for an extended period of time following an MRI this coming Monday. The Tribe plays Villanova in early October, and appears to be dodging a bullet by not having to face one of the CAA’s top quarterbacks this year.
CAA Standings: JMU and Stony Brook sit atop the standings as the only two undefeated CAA teams remaining. W&M will begin the CAA slate with a very tough opponent for the home opener this Saturday in Stony Brook. It’s early in the season, but anything can happen. CAA play is only just beginning, and the road to the FCS playoffs starts now.
Look Ahead: The Tribe went toe-to-toe with an in-state FBS, Power 5 foe and nearly pulled off the upset. The offense performed incredibly well, the defense definitely had its moments, but the special teams needs some work. If the Tribe can overcome some of its injuries from this past week, this year’s squad will have as good a shot as any to take the CAA crown. Next week’s opponent will undoubtedly pose a big test, but there’s nothing like a home opener in Williamsburg. See you there, and LET’S GO TRIBE!!!