COVID-era Football: Is it Worth It?

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Tuesday afternoon, the William and Mary football team announced that Saturday’s road matchup against the Elon Phoenix was postponed due to COVID protocols; the game may now take place at a later date. The postponement comes on the brink of the Tribe’s home loss to national powerhouse #1 James Madison this past Saturday.

Even though the game was played, a flurry of injuries plagued the Tribe against the top-ranked Dukes. Among the injuries were sophomore quarterback Hollis Mathis, who was a game-time decision. Starting in his place was team captain Ted Hefter, starting his first game in nearly three years. Also missing from the lineup were running backs Owen Wright, Donavyn Lester, and Malachi Imoh (pictured above). Imoh was unstoppable in an earlier home win against Elon, finishing with three touchdowns to accompany his 137 rushing yards. 

On W&M’s defensive side of things, the Dukes offense proved to be just too good. To make matters worse, the Tribe’s top linebacker Trey Watkins and safety Bronson Yoder were out of the lineup as well. JMU finished with 460 total yards, making it look easy against a short-handed Tribe defense. 

Saturday was not indicative of who this team is, however. Let’s remember that JMU is ranked #1 in the country. #1. While the Tribe was certainly beat fair and square on Saturday, there is no reason to hang our heads. This is the same team that beat Elon 31-10 on March 20 and took Richmond down to the wire on the road in the opening week of the season.

There is certainly reason for optimism in Williamsburg with at least one game remaining, and hopefully two more if the postponed games are rescheduled. After three games, the Tribe sits 5th in the CAA in scoring defense, even after Saturday’s tough outing. Leading the way for the defense has been linebacker Brayden Staib, who currently leads the team in tackles with 17, including six in the win over Elon.

Just behind him, with 14 tackles, is Isaiah Jones, Marcus Barnes and Will Kiely. Junior lineman Carl Fowler leads the team with 3 sacks in as many games. Freshman Alex Washington has the lone interception for the Tribe secondary, which came in the Green and Gold’s victory over Elon. 

On the offensive side, QB Hollis Mathis has been consistent when healthy. In two games, the sophomore from Pittsburgh completed 61% of his passes for 379 yards and a pair of touchdowns with zero interceptions. But running back Malachi Imoh has been the story of the season so far. The freshman from Winchester, Virginia stepped up in a big way two weeks ago against Elon, thrust into the starting lineup due to the absences of Owen Wright and Donavyn Lester. Imoh leads the team in rushing yards and touchdowns, with 148 yards and three scores.

In the receiving game, Cole Blackman and Anthony Mague have led the way, with 148 and 100 receiving yards respectively; each has a touchdown on the season as well. But I would be remiss if I didn’t address the elephant in the room: with two games already postponed due to COVID protocol, is this season worth it? Assuming the postponed games are not made up, the Tribe will have only played four games in an already shortened season. 

Over the past year, it seems like everything that could go wrong has, so even to be in the middle of a Tribe football season is an accomplishment in and of itself. The amount of work and effort the entire program has put into this season cannot go unnoticed. It is also worth noting that the postponed games have occurred due to COVID issues in the opponent’s program, not because of William and Mary. Shoutout to Coach Mike London and the entire staff for keeping the team safe and healthy during this tumultuous time. 

Also, if William and Mary had not played this season, it would go into the fall 2021 season with quite a bit of rust (and that might be an understatement). Even though there have been cancellations and adjustments this season, for W&M’s players to acquire practice and game experience is extremely valuable — especially for this young team. Since the 2019 season, the Tribe has been working hard to get to this point, so seeing the fruits of its hard work is definitely a reason to play this spring. We cannot minimize the efforts of all the players on the sideline and what they have had to go through to get to this point. 

However, as a fan, it is certainly tough to see the team lose opportunities to play due to COVID. I realize that this is our new reality at this point, and I am thankful that we are seeing any football at all. In a season with so many interruptions and cancellations, I am sure it is difficult to get into a rhythm when there is no certainty that games will even be played. I am hopeful that the previously postponed games are rescheduled, but even if they are not, four games is better than none.

My heart breaks for the players, especially the seniors, who are playing their last season in Williamsburg. But let’s remember that the season is not over, with the Tribe taking on in-state rival Richmond at Zable Stadium on April 10th. Kickoff is slated for 1 pm.

LET’S GO TRIBE!
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