By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Williamsburg, VA (Sports Network) - William & Mary coach defensive coordinator Bob Shoop didn't have to say something to stir some of his players before they took on Villanova on Saturday afternoon. What he showed them said everything.
Shoop began a pregame meeting by showing his defense a video clip of Villanova fans storming their team's field to join the Wildcats' coaches and players in celebration after a one-point win over William & Mary in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals last December.
"Obviously, you don't want that to happen again," sophomore linebacker Dante Cook remembered the feeling. "It's a fear factor."
Fear Factor, meet the game show in CAA Football called Family Feud. Or is it Survivor?
Breathing room is at a premium in the conference standings. What happens on one Saturday doesn't mean much to the following Saturday's opponent.
William & Mary will wake up Sunday still reveling in its 31-24 victory over the nation's No. 1-ranked team on Saturday before a Family Weekend sellout crowd of 12,259 at Zabale Stadium. By sundown Sunday, however, head coach Jimmye Laycock - and Shoop, too, considering his motivational tools - will have the Tribe focused on their next CAA opponent, Rhode Island, which comes to town next Saturday. The Rams already have taken down perennial power New Hampshire on its CAA hit list.
"You really don't just point to one game here and one game there because this league is so good," said Laycock, whose seventh-ranked team is about to rise in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25. Five of this week's top eight teams were from the CAA. "You don't know until the end of the year which teams are going to be the playoff teams, which teams are going to compete for the championship. I mean, just because somebody picked somebody somewhere doesn't mean they are going to be the team. You've got to work to get better and better every week and come to play every week."
It sure helped William & Mary (4-1, 2-1) that Villanova All-America Matt Szczur, who catches passes, returns kickoffs and operates the offense out of the Wildcat scheme, was in street clothes because of a high ankle sprain suffered against Penn a week ago. But Tribe's 4-3 defense was active all game, disrupting the Wildcats' strong running game, and junior quarterback Mike Paulus knew when to hit his receivers in his first start of the season and when to hand the ball off to junior tailback Jonathan Grimes, who rushed for 83 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.
"When you stop the run like that, that definitely starts to take a toll on them," said defensive tackle Mike Stover. Villanova's 62 rushing yards were 155 below their average.
"I thought we played our best game of the season," Laycock said. "We really executed pretty well on offense, played really hard on defense. Pretty much in all areas, I thought we played really well."
William & Mary built a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter, then withstood a Villanova rally which was fueled by quarterback Chris Whitney. He rushed for two touchdowns and fired a 47-yard Hail Mary to Norman White in the Tribe end zone - on 4th-and-28 - to pull the Wildcats within 31-24 with 2:10 left in the fourth quarter.
But Grimes, who for much of the game had beaten Villanova with his scoring, decided it was time for a rebound. On an onside kick, Grimes leaped up to grab the ball from a high bounce off the turf. The Tribe offense then ran out the clock.
"They played great, they played with a lot of passion," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "It was obvious they wanted this game and they played that way. They did a really good job. I was disappointed with our team in terms of our emotion. I don't think we hit the field with the same kind of intensity that we needed to play in a hostile environment. And that was really disappointing."
William & Mary beat a top-ranked team in the FCS for the third time since 1995. The Tribe, enjoying perhaps one of the final Indian summer afternoons of their fall, soaked in the sun. Meanwhile, the visiting Wildcats (3-2, 1-1) seemed bothered right after they fell behind.
And William & Mary's 21-0 first-half surge was both impressive and decisive.
The Tribe jumped on top 14-0 behind a pair of touchdown runs by Grimes, an 8- yarder with 1:35 left in the first quarter and a 4-yarder with 11:33 left in the second quarter.
Paulus kept the first scoring drive alive by converting a 4th-and-2 with a 5- yard pass to Marshall Dill to the Villanova 27, and the Tribe went on to complete the 86-yard drive in 13 plays. A 36-yard pass from Paulus to Ryan Moody to the Wildcats' 4 set up Grimes' second touchdown.
At that point, Villanova's offense still had designs on getting on track, and the Wildcats drove into William & Mary's red zone midway through the second quarter.
But on 4th-and-2 from the Tribe's 17, Whitney adjusted his throw when outside linebacker Wes Steinman got his arms up in the way and the ball went behind running back Angelo Babbaro on the right side. Cook, the middle linebacker, raced to his left and eyed the floating ball as if it were another winning pick-six ticket. He hauled it in at his 16 and raced up the sideline for an 84-yard touchdown return and a 21-0 W&M lead with 5:16 left in the first half.
"As soon as I got to the goal line, I thought I was going to pass out," said Cook, who a week earlier scored on a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Tribe's first CAA win of the season at Maine.
It seemed William & Mary had left Villanova emotionally dead on Grimes' 6-yard touchdown waltz around right end to make it 28-3 midway through the third quarter, but Whitney didn't get the memo.
"It's like Match Play in Ryder Cup golf," Laycock said. "You kind of always anticipate your opponent to make the putt or make the shot. You have to always be ready, you can't be caught by surprise there. Even though you're not thinking they're going to do it, you've got to be ready for them. And I thought our guys were ready."
Whitney (235 yards passing, 37 yards rushing) slowly got the Wildcats back within striking distance. He scored on a 3-yard bootleg in the third quarter and a 4-yard scramble in the fourth quarter, touchdowns that were sandwiched around Drake Kuhn's 42-yard field goal for William & Mary.
Whitney's TD pass to White then got the Wildcats within 31-24.
Part of the future of the brutally tough CAA Football race could be determined not on the field, but in a doctor's office. In Saturday's other huge conference matchup, Delaware standout quarterback Pat Devlin suffered a concussion on the fifth-ranked Blue Hens' second play from scrimmage and was lost for the remainder of their 13-10 victory at No. 3 James Madison.
The Blue Hens (5-0, 2-0), like William & Mary, will climb in the next rankings, but who knows if it will last. A dangerous opponent lurks at every turn in CAA Football.
As Villanova learned once again on Saturday.
"It's exhilarating," Cook said. "You've got all your fans, all your family, everyone here supporting you, everyone here rooting for the Tribe. But also, you know, they were the team that we had to beat this weekend. If it was anybody we played we would have been just as excited. Of course, Villanova, bitter rivalry, it's really good to get that win."
Truth or Consequences. Yeah, that title for the CAA will work, too.