William and Mary's football team found solace in its season-ending, overtime loss to Richmond last year when the Spiders won the national championship.
The collective reaction: "That could have been us."
"This year, we have such high expectations for ourselves, we didn't think that way," defensive tackle Sean Lissemore said Tuesday. "We were disappointed. We know we're good. We expect to beat the best teams in the country."
How good will be revealed by the NCAA playoffs, which open Saturday when William and Mary host Weber State at 1 p.m.
How good will be determined by how quickly the Tribe forgets Saturday's 13-10 defeat at Richmond, settled on Andrew Howard's 48-yard, final-play field goal.
"It was like a blow to your stomach," coach Jimmye Laycock said of losing the bare-knuckled, defensive brawl.
This is a curious place for William and Mary, or any football team. Since postseason features the elite, few enter on the heels of defeat.
Among the 16 in this year's bracket, only William and Mary, Eastern Illinois and Holy Cross lost last week. Moreover, each of Laycock's six previous playoff squads began postseason after defeating Richmond in the annual finale, the South's oldest rivalry.
But after the players watched Sunday's field unveiling with several hundred fans on campus, Laycock decided to dispense with any comforting words.
"I think when they saw the outpouring of support, they thought, 'Wow, this is something pretty neat here. We're in the playoffs,' " Laycock said. "It kind of got them recharged, refocused. I really don't feel like we spent a lot of time hanging our heads."
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, whose nerves betray him more before practices than games, liked what he saw during Monday's session.
"It was business as usual," he said. "I was really impressed."
No surprise, though. With 17 upperclassmen among the 22 starters, this is a mature bunch. After the season's first loss, at Villanova, the Tribe (9-2) won five consecutive games, all within the briar patch called the Colonial Athletic Association — CAA teams received three of the tournament's eight at-large bids and two of the top four seeds.
"I don't know that we need to do too, too much," quarterback R.J. Archer said. "Even some of the younger guys, it's a pretty veteran team as far as mind-set goes."
That said, no one on William and Mary's roster has experienced the playoffs. Weber State, conversely, advanced to the second round last season before losing to eventual finalist Montana.
But if the Tribe defense continues to suffocate opponents, and if Archer rediscovers the accuracy that vanished against Richmond, this is a team capable of winning four straight and prompting the wildest Williamsburg parties since George Washington and his crew got all liquored up at Christiana Campbell's.
If William and Mary is searching for role models on how to approach postseason fresh off a loss, here are three:
In 1997, Youngstown State dropped its finale to Western Illinois before opening the playoffs with a victory over visiting Hampton University. Three weeks later, the Penguins defeated McNeese State in the title game.
The next year, Massachusetts rebounded from a loss to regional rival Connecticut to win four in postseason, including an epic 55-43 final against Georgia Southern.
Most familiar to Laycock's players, the 2007 New York Giants. They lost their finale to the unbeaten and seemingly invincible New England Patriots, won road playoff tests at Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay, and stunned the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
William and Mary lost plenty last week: a top-four playoff seed, a share of the CAA title and the first 10-win regular season in school history. Plus, the defeat was the Tribe's fifth straight against the Spiders, its longest losing streak in the series since the early 1920s.
"You're not a competitor if it doesn't bother you and you don't get upset by it," Archer said. "So be mad a little bit, learn from it and turn it around."
"It still stings," Lissemore said. "The way we lost, the magnitude of the loss. … (But) now it's redemption time."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime
Confident Tribe seems eager for playoff opportunity
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