Give William and Mary two or three more plays in the first two games and its record would have been reversed as it headed into the conference opener. Same refrain afterward.
Margin for error, time of possession and lack of execution were the difference in the Tribe's 20-17 loss at defending CAA champ and preseason favorite Towson on Saturday at Unitas Stadium.
"It's tough," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. "We've got close ball games and you come down and you talk about a couple plays here, a couple plays there and it's all the difference in the world and that's kind of what happened today, too."
The Tribe is 0-3 for the first time since 1999, its three losses by a combined seven points. Saturday's game was more agonizing than most, since what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds was negated by a penalty, and kicker Drake Kuhn didn't get the chance to send it to overtime.
"It's good to be home," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "It's good to beat anybody in the CAA. It was ugly. It wasn't nearly as sharp as I know I would like. … But 30 years from now, nobody's going to know anything about that. They're just going to know it was a win, and those are things that have been hard to come by here in the last decade or so."
W&M nearly erased a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes. Raphael Ortiz's short touchdown pass to Nolan Kearney cut the deficit to 20-17 with 5:44 remaining.
Towson gained valuable yards and chewed up time before the Tribe defense stiffened, getting the offense the ball back at its 20 following a touchback with 1:34 remaining.
Ortiz, the redshirt sophomore making his first career start, directed the offense to the Tigers' 28-yard line with 34 seconds remaining, which would have given Kuhn a decent shot at a tying field goal.
On 3rd-and-5, Ortiz was flushed out of the pocket, stepped up and drifted to his right. As defenders converged on him, he lofted a pass to wide receiver Tre McBride, open in the right side of the end zone for a touchdown. But Ortiz was flagged for an illegal forward pass, the official ruling that he was beyond the line of scrimmage when he released the ball.
"I guess I was over the line," a resolute Ortiz said. "I'll look at film and see what happened. I just gave the guy a chance to make a play."
Asked if he thought he was over the line, Ortiz replied, "I honestly didn't think I was."
The five-yard penalty brought up 4th-and-10. Laycock elected to run a play and try to gain the first down, rather than send out Kuhn, whose career-long kick was 45 yards and who had missed a 48-yard attempt at Maryland in the opener.
"It would have been 57 yards into the wind, and that's out of his range," Laycock said afterward. Though the attempt actually would have been 50 or 51 yards, his point about the wind is well-taken, because the wind had kicked up to 10-15 mph into the offense's face by game's end.
Towson (1-1, 1-0 CAA) escaped because its offense controlled the clock, if not always the scoreboard. The Tigers had a nearly 12-minute advantage in time of possession and ran 19 more plays than the Tribe. Towson outgained the Tribe 422-258.
"You want to play good defense? Have the defense sit on the bench," Ambrose said. "I'm serious. Have the defense sit on the bench. How do you have a fast, hard-running, full-time defense? Make sure their legs are fresh. That means offense has to carry the weight. We carried the time of possession. If they don't have the ball, outside of us being stupid, they can't score."
Of Towson's eight meaningful possessions, six covered at least eight plays and ate up at least four minutes. Sophomore back Terrance West rushed for 153 yards. Quarterback Grant Enders was an efficient 16 of 21 passing for 175 yards and supplemented that with 59 yards rushing that extended drives and possessions when the Tribe defense needed to get off the field.
"They didn't get a whole lot of points against us," Laycock said, "but they did get some yards and took a lot of time off the clock. Give them credit, they did a good job of ball control and doing all that and not giving us any turnovers. They're a good team."
Towson was fortunate to be tied at 10 with the Tribe at halftime. The Tigers had to settle for a field goal after a holding penalty nullified Alex Blake's touchdown run in the first quarter. They were stopped on 4th-and-1 at the Tribe 9-yard line on their second possession.
A dead-ball personal foul penalty added 15 yards to their third drive. With seconds remaining, W&M's Luke Rhodes forced an Enders fumble at the Tribe 2, but wide receiver Spencer Wilkins alertly jumped on the loose ball in the end zone
The Tribe (0-3, 0-1 CAA) scored on its only two possessions of the half, as the offensive line routinely opened holes and Ortiz (10-for-17, 101 yards, 1 TD) scrambled for timely gains when he was unable to find receivers.
But the Tribe offense stagnated after halftime, netting only 10 one yards in a quarter-and-a-half as Towson took a 20-10 lead before W&M's final push.
"We've gotten better," Laycock said. "I know we got better offensively. Our numbers aren't, but we just didn't have any plays. But I thought we were much better."