CHARLOTTESVILLE — When these teams met two years ago, it was over quick. How quick? Less than three minutes into the second quarter, Virginia led by four touchdowns.
This time, playing only its fourth game in 21 months, William & Mary put up a tougher fight at Scott Stadium. Even if the numbers, most notably the final score of 43-0, don’t show it.
“I thought we did a good job defensively for the first half, so that’s something we can be proud of,” W&M coach Mike London said. “It’s not good enough when you don’t win the game, so there’s a lot of things we can get better at.
“The goal is always to win the game, no matter who you’re playing. There’s a lot of good things, but obviously there’s a lot of things we need to work on as well.”
Junior quarterback Hollis Mathis, a starter since his first game as a true freshman in 2019, was in uniform but did not play because of an injury. London said all week that he was going to be cautious with Mathis and that it would be “a game-time decision.”
In addition to Mathis, W&M played without two more starters — left tackle Andrew Trainer and linebacker Tyler Crist. Also absent were running backs Bronson Yoder and Malachi Imoh.
Filling in for Mathis was Darius Wilson, who became the second true freshman quarterback in program history — Mathis was the first — to start a season opener.
Facing a Power Five opponent on the road in front of 42,982 fans, Wilson completed 9-of-15 passes for 83 yards with no turnovers. He added 29 yards on six carries.
“He didn’t flinch,” London said. “Obviously, we can all see there are things he’s got to get better at. We’ve got to help him with some of the things we can do to make sure he uses his arms and legs.
“He’s going to be a good football player. To start your first college football game against an FBS opponent on the road with a packed house, he’s got a football IQ we think is going to be good for us.”
The game’s tone changed late in the second quarter when, trailing 10-0, the Tribe had a first down at the Virginia 13-yard line. W&M failed to convert on third down, and making matters far worse, an unsportsmanlike penalty was called.
Instead of a 27-yard field goal attempt, Ethan Chang lined up from 42. His kick had the distance but was wide.
Virginia answered with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that started with 3:25 remaining and ended with 32 seconds on the clock. Instead of trailing 10-3 at the break, it was 17-0.
“It was huge,” London said. “We’ve got to worry about what we’re doing, not what they’re doing. That happened, it pushed us back, and we missed the kick. …
“It was frustrating, and I understand. But in this game, you’ve got to work with the ebbs and flows of it.”
After forcing a three-and-out to start the third quarter, the Tribe stuck for its biggest play of the night — a 20-yard pass from Wilson to Tyler Rose. Seven plays later, W&M faced a fourth-and-2 from the Virginia 16-yard line. The Tribe’s offense stayed on the field but was penalized for delay of game.
Chang then attempted a 36-yard field goal, which was blocked. Virginia put the game away with three touchdowns and a field goal in its next four possessions. The scholarship difference — FBS teams can carry 85, FCS teams 63 — became more evident.
“The battle of attrition takes over sometimes,” London said.
Next for William & Mary is Lafayette Saturday, Sept. 11 at Zable Stadium. The Leopards lost 35-14 at Air Force on Saturday.
“We’ve got a long way to go, and (tonight) was a great opportunity to see what (we) need to get fixed and how (we) can fix it,” London said. “So make the corrections here and get ready for our next opponent.”