Duquesne-William & Mary Preview
Try as it might, William & Mary can't completely ignore what might lie ahead.
Two weeks after being denied an outright CAA championship by Richmond, the 13th-ranked Tribe will have the chance to avenge a stinging loss to their archrival in a FCS playoff second-round matchup Dec. 5.
"We kind of knew that was going to happen," Tribe defensive tackle Tyler Claytor said. " It was just a matter of who we were going to play in the first round."
Despite owning a vast advantage in tradition over the playoff-neophyte Dukes, the Northeast Conference champions, there'll be no edge in experience in the teams' first meeting. The Tribe's 10th postseason appearance under legendary coach Jimmye Laycock will be the first for every member of the current roster.
So as it ventures into unknown territory, William & Mary's greatest obstacle may be sticking to the task at hand against an opponent it's widely expected to beat.
"We can't really focus on Richmond, because if we don't beat Duquesne we won't play Richmond again," Claytor said.
Still, some can't help but think about a second chance against the seventh-seeded Spiders, who recorded their fourth straight win in the series and likely prevented the Tribe from earning a national seed and first-round bye with last Saturday's 20-9 victory.
"Since none of the players right now on the roster have played in a game where we've beaten Richmond, it was great to see we could have another opportunity to beat them," senior center Andrew Jones said.
Duquesne (8-3) appears to have the odds stacked against it, considering its funding limitations and the NEC's historical lack of postseason success. The conference is 1-5 in playoff games, with Wagner's win over Colgate in 2012 the lone positive result.
The Dukes began offering scholarships in 2008, two years prior to William & Mary's last playoff trip. The program's 36 resides well below the FCS maximum of 63.
Among the Dukes' three losses is a 17-14 setback at Albany, which finished 11th in the 12-team CAA. In their only game against a 2015 playoff participant, they surrendered a season-high 242 rushing yards in a 24-13 defeat to Dayton.
The Tribe are 8-0 when rushing for 145 yards or more and will challenge Duquesne with one of the subdivision's premier running back tandems in Kendell Anderson (1,234 yards, 13 TDs) and Mikal Abdul-Saboor (707 yards, 7 TDs), a 1,266-yard rusher in 2014 slowed by a sprained ankle this season.
William & Mary also sports one of the nation's best special-teams units. Wide receiver DeVonte Dedmon has scored touchdowns on both kickoff and punt returns, kicker Nick Dorka and punter Hunter Windmuller were both first-team All-CAA honorees and the Tribe have blocked 15 kicks over the past two seasons.
The Dukes aren't lacking in playmakers either. Running back Rafiq Douglas (977 yards, 15 TDs) and receivers Chris King (69 catches, 915 yards, 7 TDs) and Wayne Capers (44 receptions, 723 yards, 6 TDs) headline a capable offense operated by a three-year starter at quarterback in Dillon Buechel.
"When our offense is able to click on all cylinders, when we're able to run and pass, I feel we're going to be a pretty hard team to stop," said Douglas, named STATS FCS offensive player of the week for a 165-yard, three-touchdown effort in last week's 30-20 conference-clinching win over Saint Francis.
FCS player of the year candidate Christian Kuntz and fellow outside linebacker Nathan Stone have each generated nine sacks on an opportunistic defense that's forced 10 turnovers during a four-game win streak the Dukes will bring into Zable Stadium.
"They look to be a very sound team," said Laycock. "They're on a winning streak right now. They've got some players who can make some things happen, some very outstanding skill players. Their schemes are good.
"We expect to get their best shot Saturday."