Villanova, Pa. — In winning three consecutive games prior to Saturday's Colonial Athletic Association contest against Villanova, William and Mary was relatively untested late.
Taking on the 20th-ranked Wildcats at Villanova Stadium, the Tribe received a stern test. They did not pass.
William and Mary allowed long Villanova scoring drives on the Wildcats' final two possessions and had to settle for a field goal after driving inside the Villanova 10-yard line on its first fourth-quarter possession of a 20-16 loss to the CAA preseason favorites.
"Defensively, we quit tackling," William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said. "We didn't do a good job of that in the second half."
Ultimately, consecutive fourth-quarter drives proved decisive Saturday.
After Villanova (3-2, 2-0 CAA) tied the game at 13 on Mark Hamilton's 35-yard field goal with 11:47 remaining, the Tribe took possession at its own 26. Quarterback Brent Caprio — in the game for the first time after starter Michael Graham was lost due to an apparent second-quarter concussion and backup Steve Cluley was ineffective — hooked up with Tre McBride on a 37-yard completion to set William and Mary up with a first-and-10 from the Wildcats' 15. But on third-and-7 from the Villanova 12, a run by Mikal Abdul-Saboor picked up just six yards. Laycock then elected to kick a 24-yard field goal rather than go for it on fourth-and-1.
"We'd been playing great defense all year," Laycock said. "In that situation, I said 'Let's get the points and have our defense hold them.'"
John Carpenter's 24-yard field goal gave William and Mary a 16-13 lead with 6:17 left, and it was in line with ultraconservative Tribe decisions Saturday. After Graham was lost for the game in the early second quarter and Cluley threw an interception on his second attempt, William and Mary took the game out of its quarterbacks' hands. A number of times, the Tribe ran or threw short passes to running backs on third-and-long, ending with Abdul-Saboor's 6-yard run a yard short of the line to gain.
It was consistent with that philosophy that Laycock kicked the fourth-quarter field goal, and McBride said he understood his coach's decision.
"Of course, as an offense, you want to be on the field, as much as you can," McBride said. "But offensively, (the field goal) seemed like the best choice at that time and moment."
Following Carpenter's field goal, Villanova took over at its own 20.
The Wildcats' no-huddle offense, triggered by quarterback John Robertson, had been stymied by the Tribe defense for most of the afternoon through that point. But Villanova converted three third downs on the drive, moving the ball and running clock, and took a 20-16 lead on Robertson's sneak with 28 seconds remaining.
While it appeared as though Villanova's tempo and the heat wore down the Tribe defense, those on the William and Mary side disputed that notion.
"(The heat and tempo) wasn't an issue," said Tribe linebacker Airek Green, who tied for a team-high with seven tackles and had an interception. "We've got to make plays."
Not making plays also cost William and Mary's offense deep in Villanova territory.
After opening the scoring on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Graham to Sean Ballard on their second offensive series, the Tribe drove inside the Wildcats' 10 three times. But on each of those three occasions, William and Mary had to settle for a Carpenter field goal.
"Basically, we didn't run the ball as well as we should have, and we didn't take advantage of some throws," Laycock said. "There were a couple of throws that were not wide open that we could have taken and did not come up with."
Now, due to its red-zone failures and a late Villanova drive, William and Mary must regroup, starting next week with a nonconference home game against Penn and followed by a CAA contest against Maine on Oct. 19.
"We've got to go home, get back to work," Laycock said. "We'll see what we can do now."