WILLIAMSBURG — All season long, William & Mary (W&M) coach Mike London wanted his team to stay relevant. The Tribe did that, from the first week of September through the third Saturday of November.
But with a chance to take that last step — a potential playoff bid — W&M came up short in a 20-17 loss to Richmond Saturday at Zable Stadium. The Tribe (6-5, 4-4 CAA) finished with its first winning season since 2015, which was clinched three weeks ago.
“It’s been a tough year, but at the same time I’m very proud of this team,” London said. “Proud of the resiliency and leadership. For the first time in a while, we’re going to end this season with a winning record.
“You want more as a competitor. You want to win games and do things that will put you in position to be relevant at the end of the season. Perhaps a win could have helped us with another opportunity. But we didn’t win, and Richmond did.”
The Spiders (6-5, 4-4) reclaimed the Capital Cup by stopping the Tribe on a fourth-and-short from the UR 45-yard line with 1:37 remaining. They also did it by scoring 10 points in the final 127 seconds of the first half. And by all but eliminating W&M’s running game until midway through the third quarter.
Bronson Yoder, who in the absence of Donavyn Lester became the Tribe’s featured runner in the final three games, rushed for 117 of his 134 yards in the second half. In fact, W&M had 229 of its 339 yards after halftime.
It was the second consecutive week W&M’s running game struggled out of the gate before finding a rhythm in the second half.
“Starting fast, that’s an element we have to make sure we can do effectively,” he said. “Getting three points (on a first quarter field goal by Ethan Chang) was OK, but obviously they were able to score 10 (in the final) two minutes of the end of the half. That wasn’t good for us. But fighting back was positive.
“If you want to be consistent and you want to fight to be a good football team, we have to take care of all the elements. Starting fast, controlling the turnovers, all those things. We’ll get better.”
Trailing 20-10 midway through the fourth quarter, William & Mary made it a one-possession game on Darius Wilson’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Zack Burdick with 2:33 remaining. With two timeouts remaining, London elected to try an onside kick.
Will Michael’s spinner resulted in a massive pileup at the W&M 46-yard line. After several seconds, the officials ruled William & Mary had recovered.
Yoder ran for 4 yards on first down, and Wilson for 5 on second. On third-and-1, Wilson tried a sneak and was stopped short. London called one of his two remaining timeouts with 1:42 remaining.
On fourth-and-1, the Tribe lined up in an I-formation with Elijah Burns at fullback. Wilson faked, and Burns ran out to the left flat. Richmond end Darius Reynolds applied pressure from the left side, and Wilson tried escape. As he did, he tripped and fell to the turf.
Richmond then ran out the clock for its fourth consecutive win.
“Based on game planning and the look that they give, we thought we’d have an opportunity to get the first down,” London said. “Obviously, they executed and we didn’t. That’s the bottom line. We weren’t able to execute after securing the ball on an onside kick.”
Making his ninth start after not playing the previous week against James Madison, Wilson completed 14-of-25 passes for 125 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He finished his true freshman season completing 60 percent of his throws for 1,205 yards.
“I’m very proud of young Darius,” London said. “He had to grow up a lot during the season. There’s some work to do with a young freshman, but he’ll be a good player and we’re looking forward with his development to be a very good player.”
That also sums up how London feels about his team, from the 22 seniors who played their final game Saturday to those returning.
“The senior class had not experienced a winning season,” London said. “It makes you proud (to) accomplish that. … I couldn’t be more proud of this group.
“I like the team we have. It’s tough to learn your experiences by losing games, important games when you’re trying to get the Cup back. It’s tough, but life lessons are tough.”