RICHMOND - When last these teams met, William & Mary rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat Richmond. Sixty-seven weeks later, back at Robins Stadium, that plotline looked to be unfolding again.
Instead, the Spiders regained the lead with 6:20 remaining and held on for a 21-14 win Saturday afternoon. Joe Mancuso's 6-yard touchdown pass to John Fitzgerald flipped the lead, and W&M's offense was on the field for only three plays the rest of the way.
In its first game of the spring season, William & Mary got a solid day from quarterback Hollis Mathis, who accounted for 220 yards and both of his team's touchdowns. Defensively, the Tribe held Richmond to 310 yards, 159 of which came on two possessions.
It just wasn't enough.
"Obviously, we didn't play well enough to win the game," W&M coach Mike London said. "We didn't play four quarters. We started sluggish and they made some plays. They extended drives and kept us in second-and-long on several situations.
"They executed, and we did not. They deserve the credit."
The Tribe was missing at least four starters Saturday: without Kane Everson, offensive guards Dan Evers and Bart Francois, and free safety Gage Herdman. Reconstructing the line was the biggest challenge. Marcus Crowell, normally a backup tackle, started at left guard. Cory Ryder, the second-string center on the depth chart, started at right guard.
"There were a couple of players we didn't have for various issues," London said. "It's the next-man-up mentality when you're dealing with the pandemic and the protocols of getting ready for a game. We were without them today, and hopefully they'll be back with us to play James Madison (next Saturday).
William & Mary trailed 13-0 early in the third quarter but took a 14-13 lead with 11:56 remaining in the game on Mathis' 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Mague. That came on fourth-and-goal, and it was a gutsy decision by London — in that he'd have been second-guessed forever had it failed.
After Mathis threw incomplete on third-and-goal from the 5, London sent out true freshman Ethan Chang for a 22-yard attempt. It was successful, but Richmond was penalized for being offsides. The adage is to never take points off the board, but everyone knows seven is greater than three.
The ball was moved just inside the 3-yard line, and London sent the offense back on the field. Mathis executed perfect play-action fake by imitating a statue for a split second before rolling to his right and finding Mague wide open in the end zone.
"It paid off for us," London said.
After totaling nine snaps and 15 yards in its previous three possessions, Richmond answered with a 14-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that took 5:36 off the clock. The Spiders converted a fourth-and-1 and two third-and-5s.
The Tribe went three-and-out on its next possession. Richmond took over with 4:33 remaining and with a pair of first downs ran out the clock.
There a critical play that came early in the third quarter with Richmond leading 7-0.
Punting into the wind, Will Whitehurst kick was high and short. Isaac Brown called for a fair catch but fumbled it as W&M's Brayden Staib moved past him. In the replay, it does not appear that Staib made any contact.
William & Mary recovered near midfield, but Staib was penalized for interfering with Brown. That gave the Spiders possession at the Tribe 33-yard line, and they scored four plays later to take a 13-0 lead.
"From what I saw, because of the bobble, there was contact," London said. "There's a mechanism in place for disagreeing with the calls that are made, and I'm quite sure we'll get clarification.
Up next for the Tribe will be No. 1 James Madison, which rallied from a 17-3 halftime deficit to defeat Elon 20-17 Saturday. Before focusing on the Dukes, London believes his team must correct some correctable mistakes.
"We have to coach better and the players need to understand that not doing your assignment can cause a second-and-long situation or a missed tackle on quarterback scramble can go from a third down to first down," he said. "I believe in this team, and I believe we can put ourselves in a position to move it up to our next opponent."
NOTES: Cole Blackman, who began his career at Virginia before transferring to Illinois State and now William & Mary, had five receptions for 89 yards. His 45-yard catch from Mathis was the longest play of the day for either team. … Linebacker Trey Watkins had a career-high 12 tackles, eight of which were solo. A dagger stat for the Tribe was third- and fourth-down conversions. Richmond was 8-of-16, W&M 6-of-18.