Call it William & Mary’s version of “The Catch.” With momentum that shifted all afternoon back in Richmond’s corner, the Tribe needed a big play to regain the Capital Cup rivalry trophy and win a first Colonial Athletic Association title in seven years.
Darius Wilson and Caylin Newton delivered it. Newton leaped high at the right sideline to haul in a rainbow pass from Wilson and somehow came down with the ball while keeping his feet inbounds — all with the Spiders’ Angelo Rankin Jr. draped to his back.
The third-and-8 conversion for a 17-yard gain gave the Tribe the ball at the Spiders’ 2-yard line. Two plays later, Wilson ran for a 2-yard touchdown to clinch a 37-26 win for the No. 8 Tribe over the No. 11 Spiders in front of a sold-out crowd of 8,500 on Saturday at Robins Stadium.
It was a victory that came with a bevy of prizes, not the least of which was tying the Capital Cup series, “The Most Played Rivalry in the South,” at 64-64-5. It also assured the Tribe (10-1) of their best regular-season record in the 129-year history of the program.
Already a near-lock for a first FCS playoff berth since 2015, the Tribe all but assured themselves of a first-round bye. They will likely find out today from the NCAA selection committee if they will host their second-round game at Zable Stadium on Dec. 3.
But the spoils were not surrendered easily. Buoyed by a 24-point run that began in the second quarter, the Tribe appeared to be on their way to a runaway victory when Wilson connected with DreSean Hendrick on a 77-yard touchdown pass that gave them a 31-10 lead with 6:40 to play in the third quarter.
“I told my mom when we went up [31-10], I lost a tear or two because I thought ‘Wow, we’ve got the momentum and we’re going in,’ said senior defensive lineman Carl Fowler, who batted down three passes at the line of scrimmage. “Then, like [every] football game with Richmond, it’s going to be fought to the end.”
Richmond quarterback Reece Udinski (32-of-50 passing, 277 yards, two TDs) made sure of that. On a day when he surpassed 3,000 passing yards for the season, Udinski completed 10 of 14 passes for 78 yards to lead the Spiders (8-3) on consecutive touchdown drives that sliced the Tribe lead to 31-26 with 10:42 remaining in the fourth quarter.
But Wilson, a sophomore who earned game MVP honors by throwing for 227 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 42 yards and two TDs, did not flinch. He responded to the Spiders’ comeback by leading the Tribe on what he acknowledged was “probably the biggest [drive of the season]”: 80 yards on 14 plays.
He kept it alive by converting third-down passes to Newton for 31 and 10 yards. Facing the third-and-8 at the Spiders’ 19, he inevitably turned to Newton, the younger brother of former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton, on the pivotal play of the game.
“We practice those balls every day in practice, so we’ll always ask to give us a chance to throw it up and give Caylin a chance because he’s our guy to go up and get that,” Wilson said. “As soon as we called the play, I saw he was one-on-one and I was going to get it to him because I trust him.”
Wilson’s touchdown run moments later settled the issue on a day of momentum swings. Richmond led 6-0 on a pair of field goals courtesy of Richmond ball-control and Udinski’s passing efficiency, The Tribe stole the momentum behind Wilson and a rushing attack that netted 244 yards against the nation’s second-ranked run defense.
The Tribe defense held fast late after the heroics by Wilson and Newton to stifle the Spiders’ comeback hopes. Fowler batted down his third pass of the game before All-American candidates John Pius and Nate Lynn combined on a sack of Udinski.
The Tribe celebrated their triumph jubilantly.
“It feels great,” Wilson said of winning a share of the CAA title. “You come here to accomplish great things. You come here to make the playoffs.”
Fowler was happier about beating Richmond.
“It was unbelievable to see our guys run across the field and grab the [Capital] Cup,” he said. “I don’t even think I looked at the CAA trophy.”
Playoff announcement party
Pete Clawson, senior assistant director of athletics, said the William & Mary Athletics Department will host a watch party for the NCAA announcement of the Tribe’s first date and site in the FCS playoffs. It will be in the Corner Pocket Restaurant in New Town of Williamsburg.