Blowout affirms W & M's rise

SportsFootballEducationCollege of William and Mary

William and Mary spent all season redefining the possible, so why should the playoffs be any different?

Accomplish little on offense in the first half, yet be in control. Discombobulate one of the nation's better quarterbacks.

Stuff a productive offense from a league where they know how to put points on the board into a dumpster. Lose a valuable offensive cog early, and barely miss a beat.

The Tribe's 38-0 kneecapping of Weber State in the first round of the FCS playoffs contained most of the major food groups and again confirmed W&M's place among the nation's elite.

"We came out a little slow, a little sluggish," Tribe quarterback R.J. Archer said, "and we picked it up some in the second half. But it's still nice to have a defense that, when you don't have a very good first half offensively and you're up 17-0, that's not too bad. It worked out all right."

Better than all right. The Tribe's first trip to the playoffs since 2004 began with its nationally ranked defense and ended with a superior effort from its offensive line and running game.

A Weber State offense averaging nearly 31 points and 420 yards per game managed bupkis. The Wildcats, of the Big Sky Conference, rushed for minus-6 yards and totaled 161 yards.

Coming into Saturday's playoff game, quarterback Cameron Higgins had thrown for 7,600 yards and 66 touchdowns in the past two seasons. Against the Tribe, he completed just 21 of 40 passes for 167 yards, with four interceptions — two of which the Tribe returned for touchdowns.

It was only the second time in the past two seasons in which Higgins threw for fewer than 200 yards. The other time was a cruise-job win two weeks ago against Northern Arizona in which he attempted only 21 passes.

"Our coaches stressed throughout the whole week, in our individual defensive-back meetings," Tribe cornerback B.W. Webb said, "that this might be one of the best quarterbacks and best receivers we've faced this year.

"It really was. They had great receivers, and their quarterback could really throw. But we prepared for it all week — the scout-team guys got us ready, and Coach called great plays getting us in position, setting us up nice."

If there's a backbreaker in a 38-0 game, Webb likely provided it. The redshirt freshman from Warwick High picked off Higgins late in the first half and returned it 58 yards unthreatened down the right sideline, turning a 10-0 affair into a 17-0 spread.

"It's lovely just seeing the fans right there," Webb said. "Run to the fans. I was actually running to my mother. She's in that section right there. She and my dad."

William and Avis Webb also had the pleasure of seeing Tribe linebacker Jake Trantin return an interception of his own 60 yards for the game's first touchdown nine minutes earlier. He accurately read a screen pass from Higgins, picked up a couple of blocks and weaved his way into the end zone.

"It's nice to get a lead like that," Trantin said. "But that didn't change things. Seven points in a game like this isn't going to last long, so we knew we had to (play tough). We did well all game long shutting down the pass and then really stopping the run."

The Tribe's offense did more than its share in the second half. The damage began with a 41/2-minute touchdown drive out of the chute for a 24-0 lead, and W&M never let up.

With Jonathan Grimes leading the way, William and Mary rushed for more yards in the second half (176) than its per-game average (167.6). The Tribe hardly missed second-leading rusher Courtland Marriner, who was sidelined in the first quarter after delivering a block and didn't return. A defense's best friend is an offense that holds onto the ball for 22:33 of the second half.

"They had a tough defense, they played hard," said Archer, who scored twice himself and orchestrated the offense smartly and efficiently. "We just kept pounding, came out in the second half and were able to get some stuff done on the ground, and then throw the ball when we needed to."

Tribe players wouldn't be so presumptuous to think that they would shut down a playoff opponent and its prolific quarterback.

"Coming into the game, we weren't really sure," Webb said, "but we know that we have a good defense. If we played really well, anything can happen."

Sounds a lot like the story of their season.

Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637

or by e-mail at dfairbank@dailypress.com. For more from Fairbank, read his blog at dailypress.com/fromthetarpit.

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