WILLIAMSBURG — Perfection wasn't required against Towson, just a bit more production than William and Mary could muster.
The Tribe limited the Colonial Athletic Association's top offense, but couldn't make enough plays or stop the Tigers at crucial junctures in a tough, physical 15-9 loss Saturday in the home finale at Zable Stadium.
"I thought we competed and played well," Tribe head coach Jimmye Laycock said, "but we made too many mistakes — things we just don't do. You can't do that in a tough game like that against good people. We had a shot there and couldn't quite do it, but again, I can't fault our guys' effort."
The Tribe (7-4, 4-3 CAA) saw its three-game win streak snapped as its defense — yep, the defense — had two fumbles. Towson converted all three times on fourth down, including a fake field-goal attempt on fourth-and-9 that resulted in the eventual game-winning score.
The 10th-ranked Tigers didn't come close to their 40-point scoring average, but hit their rushing average with 248 yards, led by uber-back Terrance West (157 yards, two touchdowns). Slippery quarterback Peter Athens (9-for-18, 94 yards, 39 net yards rushing) avoided several sack attempts and managed an offense that had a 10-minute edge in time of possession.
The 16th-ranked Tribe settled for field goals — John Carpenter was a perfect 3-for-3 — and was 0-for-3 on fourth-down conversion attempts in the second half.
Still, William and Mary had an opportunity to win late. Its last hope came when wide receiver Tre McBride, who had gotten behind the defense, couldn't haul in Brent Caprio's scrambling, fourth-down heave at the Towson 5-yard line with 1:09 remaining.
"We did a good job," said Caprio (13-for-27, 167 yards). "We just let some opportunities slip away in the red zone, and fourth downs, things like that. We did a good job moving the ball all day. Possessions were at a premium, the way the clock was running — a lot of runs on both sides of the ball. We just couldn't convert sometimes."
William and Mary led 9-7 late in the third quarter and its defense forced what looked to be a 30-yard field-goal attempt on fourth-and-9. But the Tigers ran a fake, with holder Connor Frazier sprinting to the right and then cutting upfield for a 10-yard gain to the W&M 3. West scored his 71st career touchdown on the next play.
"Obviously, it surprised us," Tribe linebacker Luke Rhodes said of the fake. "Critical situation like that, we had people there to make plays and we just didn't make plays tonight."
Towson (9-2, 5-2 CAA) got a two-point conversion when Frazier fell on the loose ball in the end zone. Athens had fumbled the ball into the end zone. W&M's Jerome Couplin picked up the loose ball and tried to run — a defensive return would have given the Tribe two points — but he was stripped, and Frazier fell on it for a 15-9 lead.
The Tribe's other defensive fumble came early in the third quarter when Airek Green was stripped on an interception return that would have set up W&M inside Towson's 30.
William and Mary's next drive stalled at Towson's 31 on fourth down. Towson's Donnell Lewis (Woodside) intercepted Caprio on the Tribe's next possession, W&M's only offensive turnover.
W&M had life when Towson's Drew Evangelista banged a 25-yard field-goal attempt off of the left upright. But its final possession ended at the Towson 43 after four consecutive incompletions, the last one McBride's agonizingly close chance. Towson defensive back Jordan Love recovered and was closing fast, but McBride has made more difficult catches.
"It was fourth down," Caprio said, "I couldn't take a sack, tried to buy as much time as I could and throw it up and tried to make a play and it just didn't work out."
The play was eerily similar to last year's game at Towson. Raphael Ortiz scrambled and hit McBride behind the defense for what would have been the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds. But officials ruled that Ortiz had crossed the line of scrimmage and the pass was illegal, as the Tribe fell 20-17.
William and Mary now must defeat rival Richmond next Saturday to keep alive its playoff hopes. Maine clinched the conference title and automatic playoff berth, and the Tribe is one of several league teams in the hunt for an at-large invitation.
Shelving the disappointment of Saturday's loss will be critical.
"You can't really … say we didn't play hard," Rhodes said. "Everybody on the team fought. We fought to the end and we got that stop at the end — did what we had to do to get off the field. It just didn't go our way sometimes. That's just how it works. We were getting tired, we were getting worn down. But nobody ever quit. We played to the end."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637