Tribe looks to end season on winning note vs. rival Richmond

For the sixth year in a row, what is billed as "The Oldest Rivalry in the South" will be played on the final weekend of the regular season. But this time, there's something missing.

Not for Richmond, the nation's seventh-ranked team that is fingertip-to-thumb close to securing a top-eight seed in the NCAA Championship Subdivision playoffs. But for William and Mary, which for the first time since 2012 will go into the finale with no shot at a winning record, much less a postseason bid.

So all the Tribe (4-6, 2-5 CAA) has to play for Saturday is breaking a five-game losing streak to its biggest rival and sending out the seniors on a good note. And that's the plan.

"My first year, I'm not going to lie, it was hard to grasp the concept of how important this game is," junior defensive tackle Isaiah Stephens said. "Last year was when it really clicked. This game means so much for the seniors.

"If (we) can win this game, it will make the whole season worthwhile. We had great season last year, co-conference championship, 9-4 season. But those two losses to Richmond (regular season and playoffs) hurt more than anything. This game is like no other."

No question, it would be a rare positive in a season that went unexpectedly sour. In August, William and Mary was as high as sixth in national polls. The Tribe was picked second in the powerful CAA.

Instead, W&M will finish with its first losing season since going 2-9 in 2012. That was the same year the Spiders began their five-game run in this series.

Looking back, it was an omen when linebacker Matt Vlissides injured his shoulder during pre-game warmups at N.C. State. W&M's season has included an absurd amount of injuries (even the kicker and punter) and losses against teams to which the Tribe has no business losing (Elon, Towson).

"If we had everybody healthy, we'd be dominant," wide receiver Jalen Christian said. "I still think we can be dominant. It's just the little things, like missed assignments and not making that one play. It's like we're a play away from having a nice record."

Asked to evaluate the season, W&M coach Jimmye Laycock chose two words: frustrating and inconsistent. A good example of what he means came Saturday at Towson.

After maybe its best first half of the season, W&M led 21-10 at halftime. Yet the Tigers needed less than six minutes to tie it and ended up outscoring the Tribe 24-3 in the second half.

Richmond (8-2, 5-2 CAA) looks to be at least as good as last year when it advanced to the FCS semifinal game. Since an inexplicable 42-14 loss at Stony Brook on Sept. 17, the Spiders are 6-1. The only loss came two weeks ago to No. 5 James Madison.

Going back to 2005, W&M has lost 10 of its last 12 games to Richmond. And nobody on this season's roster has ever experienced beating the Spiders.

With incentives like a playoff bid or even a winning season gone, this is what the Tribe has.

"It's rivalry week," Christian said. "No matter what the record is, you always want to get a 'W' against your rival. It's bragging rights. We want to get a win because the seniors here have never beaten Richmond, and what better way to send them out."


•Only three other Division I series have a longer history than W&M-Richmond: Lafayette-Lehigh, Yale-Princeton, and Yale-Harvard.

•Tailback Kendell Anderson needs 137 yards to break 1,000 for the second consecutive season.

•W&M's defense is giving up 157.8 passing yards a game, the fifth-fewest in the nation. The flip side to that is that the Tribe is allowing 212.6 rushing yards a game, the 103rd-most in FCS.

Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.

RICHMOND (8-2, 5-2 CAA) AT W&M (4-6, 2-5)

WHEN: Noon Saturday.

WHERE: Zable Stadium, Williamsburg.


Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette