WILLIAMSBURG — They don't do moral victories at William and Mary, not when the football program has real ones against programs with more resources and bigger stadia.
The Tribe nearly notched another one last Saturday at West Virginia, falling 24-17 after the Mountaineers of the Big 12 Conference scored the final 17 points.
"The entire offseason and the entire camp we were thinking, we can beat this team," W&M defensive end Mike Reilly said. "If we play as hard as we can, we can beat this team. I think we went into the game expecting to do well and expecting to win.
- W&M's Laycock encouraged by performance at WVU
- Laycock on HU series renewal
- Game against Hampton will show if William and Mary learned lesson from 2012
- West Virginia Mountaineers
- College of William and Mary
See more topics »
College of William & Mary, 200 Stadium Drive, Williamsburg, VA 23185, USA
"So when we didn't win, it was a really tough loss for us. We really expected to win, just like any other game on our schedule. Just because they're an FBS team and all that, that didn't really matter to us. We wanted to get the win."
The Tribe (0-1) turns attention to Hampton University (0-1) for Saturday's 7 p.m. home opener at Zable Stadium.
Despite last Saturday's disappointment, there was beaucoup encouragement — individually and collectively. The Tribe wasn't overmatched or out-of-place. It played with poise and discipline.
Inspiration was embodied by the likes of Reilly, safety Jerome Couplin and linebacker Quincy September on defense, and by linemen Jerry Ugokwe, Domenic Martinelli and Andrew Jones, running back Jarrell Cooper and H-back Darnell Laws, as well as quarterback Michael Graham.
The Tribe expected playmakers such as Couplin (14 tackles) and wide receiver Tre McBride (three catches, 108 yards) to produce. Graham, a fifth-year senior with a handful of starts, was solid after a preparation immersion the previous couple of weeks.
During preseason, head coach Jimmye Laycock expressed concern about playmakers on the defensive perimeter. Reilly had two sacks and forced a fumble. September, who battled injuries during part of August, responded with nine tackles.
Ugokwe and Martinelli are redshirt freshmen tackles, and Jones, a sophomore center, all made their first career starts and held their own against the Mountaineers' front four. Cooper, a junior from Newport News (Woodside), rushed for 45 yards. He totaled 16 yards in just four games last season.
Laws, a junior who moved from tailback to a fullback/H-back position, caught more passes Saturday (eight) than in his entire career (two).
"They just left the flats wide open, so coach kept calling the play and Mike kept hitting me," Laws said.
"To me, it's a good example of what our offensive staff did, in so far as utilizing our players' strengths," Laycock said. "He does that well, so let's go ahead and use that. Let's not put him in positions that he's not real good at or not real comfortable in."
Laws likes the vibe and focus within the offense, which permits adjustment on the fly. For example, the Tribe had the wrong personnel package for a particular play — a fake reverse to wide receiver Sean Ballard, with Graham pivoting and throwing deep to McBride.
Laws and his mates adjusted the alignment and protected Graham, who carried out the fake and connected with McBride. Granted, McBride's ability to elevate and get the ball was a big part of the play's success. But it's still a sign of progress.
"Even though we didn't have the right personnel for that play, we still made it work," Laws said. "Little things like that, everyone doing their job and even knowing what other people are doing on the field, just in case something like that happens, you're able to still execute the play. You don't have to waste a timeout or anything."
Focus and renewed commitment are products of last season's 2-9 record, along with the willingness to do whatever's required. No one was more surprised than Laws that he was the leading pass catcher, nor does it seem to matter to him if he catches eight more balls the remainder of the season.
Reilly, who totaled 41/2 sacks last season, aims for double figures this season, but is more concerned with the collective effort.
"If I can come out with zero tackles and zero sacks and we win, I'll still be excited," he said. "I know I had two sacks and a forced fumble last game, but we lost the game. It's kind of tough to be excited about that when you lose. When you win, it's a much better feeling."
William and Mary has lost its past six games. The Tribe last won on Oct. 6, 2012, at Penn, and won only three home games since the end of the 2010 season. W&M's turnaround includes lessons from last Saturday's near-miss.
"We can't just harp on the good things we did," Reilly said. "We have to look at the bad and fix them. That's the difference between a team that settles and a team that wants to be the best. There's no moral victories. Moral victory is for losers. We want to be winners."