RICHMOND, Va. — Either way, William & Mary planned to watch the FCS selection show with its supporters and celebrate the program's first playoff appearance in seven years. After what happened Saturday, they also can celebrate making history and winning the Colonial Athletic Association championship.
With quarterback Darius Wilson defining efficiency and the defense stepping up when it mattered, the Tribe defeated Richmond 37-26 at Robins Stadium. No. 8 W&M won its 10th regular-season game for the first time in 129 years of football and is virtually assured of a top-eight seed and first-round bye in the playoffs.
It didn't come easy. No. 11 Richmond jumped out to a 6-0 lead and turned an 18-point deficit into a one-possession game. But the Tribe (10-1, 7-1 CAA) sealed one of its most important victories ever with an epic touchdown drive and two defensive stops in the final 3:41.
"I don't have enough words," said W&M coach Mike London, who then somehow found them. "The stuff we've collectively been through and the stuff we've collectively grown through puts in an opportunity to represent the CAA.
"We get to have a bye in the first round. We get to get continue playing this game and the relationships with these guys. It continues to go on and on and on. That's why you do this. We get to keep on going."
Wilson, who was named the Capital Cup Most Valuable Player, accounted for 269 yards and three touchdowns. On the game-sealing drive, he completed 3-of-4 passes for 58 yards and ran for a 2-yard touchdown.
Newton had four receptions for 93 yards, three for 58 coming on the key possession. His catch on a 50-50 ball, which required getting a foot down while falling out of bounds, converted a third-and-9 and set up a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line.
"We practice those balls every day and we always (want) to give Caylin a chance because he's our guy to go up and get that," Wilson said. "As soon as we called the play, he was one-on-one and I trusted him."
Defensively, the Tribe bent a lot. Richmond quarterback Reece Udinski, who came in completing 75.2% of his passes (second nationally), hit on 32-of-50 for 277 yards and two touchdowns. But he was sacked five times and misfired on five of his final seven attempts.
"They threw 50 times — that's pretty crazy," said defensive end Carl Fowler, who had a sack and broke up three passes. "Obviously, we had our chances to get after him, but a lot of it was getting our hands in the throwing lanes and covering the shorts and the quicks.
"We kind of knew who they were offensively. They got one or two long ones, but keeping the ball in front and inside is what Coach (defensive coordinator Vincent) Brown always preaches."
In the program's most significant game since 2015, William & Mary didn't get off to the start it wanted. Twelve minutes in, the Tribe had only one first down and trailed 6-0. It could have been worse — on each of its first two possessions, UR moved inside the W&M 15-yard line but only came away with field goals.
The Tribe shook the cobwebs and led 17-13 at halftime. And after a 2-yard touchdown run by Bronson Yoder and a 77-yard scoring pass from Wilson to DreSean Kendrick, W&M led 31-13 with 6:49 left in the third quarter.
"I lost a tear or two," Fowler said. "I was like, wow, we have the momentum and we're doing it. But like a football game with Richmond is going to be, (they) fought to the end."
The Spiders cut the Tribe's lead to 31-26 on Aaron Dykes' 6-yard touchdown with 10:42 remaining in the game. With the momentum clearly on Richmond's side, W&M's offense needed a response. And did it ever give one.
William & Mary went 80 yards in 14 plays and converted four third downs along the way. Three of them were Wilson-to-Newton connections — 31 yards on third-and-11, 10 yards on third-and-6, and 17 yards on third-and-9. Wilson's 2-yard touchdown run came on third-and-goal.
The icing on the cake was that the drive began with 10:42 on the clock and ended with 3:41. The case could be made that it was the biggest touchdown drive of the season.
"It probably was, but it was more about taking one play at a time, keeping yourself composed and knowing on third down that the team needs you," Wilson said. "That's when you step up make a play. That's what everybody on the team is thinking about, and we were able to get that done."
Richmond went three-and-out and punted with only 20 seconds coming off the clock. W&M went nowhere on its possession but succeeded in hanging onto the ball and making Richmond use up all its timeouts.
Needing two score twice in the final 2:26, the Spiders moved the chains once. On fourth-and-12, cornerback Ryan Poole's PBU sealed it.
Officially, William & Mary and New Hampshire are co-champions in the CAA. The Tribe will be the Colonial's automatic qualifier because of — and this is far down the tie-breaking line of criteria — point differential in conference games.
For this program, which was 2-9 five years ago, it's a special moment. With a first-round bye, London can afford a little more time to savor it. But only a little.
"I'll enjoy it a little bit until I go home and my wife tells me to take care of our two Bernese mountain dogs that are 7-foot-7," London said. "That'll put me back in my place.
"The opportunities to win championships, it's hard to do. It was special today."