What’s W&M’s Path to the Playoffs?

Eight games into the 2021 football season, your William & Mary Tribe is in second place in the CAA behind national powerhouse James Madison — this after defeating #4 Villanova on the road Saturday, 31-18. Now read that again: the same team that the so-called “experts” of the CAA picked to finish an abysmal 11th place in the preseason polls is now rubbing shoulders with some of the best teams in the nation. The Tribe is also ranked in the FCS top 25 for the first time since 2016 (#20); but we’d be remiss if we did not talk more about W&M’s enormous road victory at #4 Villanova this past Saturday. 

Both teams entered the game coming off their best performances of the season, with the Wildcats defeating Rhode Island 44-0 the week prior and the Tribe routing Towson 40-14 at Zable Stadium. Villanova kicker Cole Bunce opened the scoring with just under 9 minutes to play in the first quarter with his 39-yard field goal that capped off a 7-play drive. The Tribe then took over, rattling off 31-straight points and dominating in all facets of the game.

Rushing touchdowns from J.T. Mayo, Darius Wilson, Bronson Yoder, and Malachi Imoh contributed to the swell in points, and Ethan Chang added a 30-yard field goal in the second quarter. The Wildcats executed two quick touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, but it was far too late at that point. The Tribe ran the clock out, continuing its dominance in time of possession, and the clock struck zero.

Freshman quarterback Darius Wilson played flawlessly, connecting on 10-18 passing for 106 yards and no interceptions. The reigning CAA rookie of the week also added 40 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Bronson Yoder had a career day after Donavyn Lester exited with an unfortunate injury that left him in a walking boot. Yoder carried the ball 25 times for 106 yards and a touchdown. We certainly wish Donavyn Lester the best and hope the injury is not too serious.

Overall, the Tribe continued its dominance in the rushing game with 258 yards against Villanova. William & Mary now leads the CAA in rushing offense and ranks 13th in the nation with 216.9 yards per contest. The #GreenSwarm was as stout as ever, intercepting ‘Nova quarterback Daniel Smith four times.

Star W&M defensive end Nate Lynn finished with two sacks and four total tackles; the junior currently ranks second in the nation in sacks and first in forced fumbles, while leading the CAA in tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and sacks. The Tribe has now forced 10 turnovers in the last two games, including 8 interceptions by 8 different players. Opposing offenses are officially on high alert for the final three games in the CAA. 

The Tribe has quietly been one of the best teams in the CAA this season, garnering little attention across the conference despite a more than stout defense and efficient offensive play. Hats off to coach Mike London and staff who have this team on the brink of a playoff berth for the first time since 2015.

The Tribe currently sits at 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the CAA after the big win over Villanova, realistically needing to win one or two more games for an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs. That being said, a conference title is certainly not out of the question if the Tribe run the table and finish 9-2. That may be a big “if,” but this team is special — don’t count them out. So, the question looms, how can the Tribe make the playoffs? Let’s dig in. 

Three games remain on the schedule, and the Tribe needs at least one victory. First up this Saturday is the Delaware Blue Hens. Delaware came into the season ranked #5, boasting a league-high 8 players on the preseason all-conference team. However, things have not gone the Blue Hens’ way this season, as they currently sit at 4-4 after just barely sneaking by a winless Dixie State team 17-10 this past weekend. Hens running back Dejoun Lee ranks second in the CAA in rushing, amassing 693 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. The Tribe are favorites heading into this matchup, but any game on the road in the CAA will be tough. Don’t count out the Blue Hens, but I’m taking the Tribe in this one. 

The most intriguing matchup remaining on the schedule comes on November 13th, when the James Madison Dukes come to Zable Stadium. This has potential to be the de-facto CAA title game if the Tribe takes care of business at Delaware. The Dukes are first in the CAA standings at 7-1, with their only loss coming to Villanova 28-27 on October 9th. JMU has been the clear front-runner in the CAA all year, led by veteran quarterback Cole Johnson. Johnson ranks second in the CAA with 1986 passing yards and 21 touchdowns with only two interceptions; he’s wreaked havoc on opposing defenses all season, but the Tribe has intercepted eight passes in its last two games.

In fact, W&M leads the CAA in interceptions and is second in sacks, which makes for an interesting matchup against the prolific Dukes in a couple weeks. The game currently seems too close to call, especially in front of a raucous crowd at Zable Stadium. And let’s not forget that the Tribe is currently undefeated at home this season — W&M will certainly look to keep that streak alive against the Sunbelt-bound James Madison Dukes.

After JMU, the Tribe wraps up its season with the Capital Cup against arch-rival Richmond on November 20th. The Spiders have had a disappointing season and currently sit at 3-5 after taking down New Hampshire last week. Spiders quarterback Joe Mancuso has been effective, passing for over 1100 yards and 10 touchdowns, but the Spiders’ defense is averaging 112.8 rushing yards allowed per game, making for an interesting matchup against the run-heavy Tribe (who is averaging 214.4 yards per game on the ground). The Capital Cup is always exciting, and although the Tribe will likely be favored in this one, let’s not count out the Spiders. It will be an emotional day for the seniors on both sides of the field, but give me the Tribe in the final game of the year to punch its ticket to the FCS playoffs. 

With this being the best football season in recent memory and definitely the best of the Mike London era, there is a certain buzz surrounding this team. While the Tribe has a very real chance at making the FCS playoffs, let’s be sure to take it one game at a time. Get excited Tribe fans, this might be the year. Selection Sunday is only 18 days away. 


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