The William & Mary football team has won four consecutive games and is one of the early-season surprises in the Colonial Athletic Association.

The Tribe, after all, were selected to finish 11th in the 12-team CAA, but now they’re 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the CAA.

Asked earlier this week about his team’s success, William & Mary Coach Mike London said, “Football is a game of opportunities in the game. … The ability to sustain, and take advantage of those opportunities, is critical.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Maine, which will play the Tribe at Alfond Stadium at noon Saturday. Maine is 1-4 overall, 0-3 in the CAA. The Black Bears, who were picked ninth in the CAA preseason poll, have struggled to take advantage of their opportunities and have been unable to sustain any momentum.

Black Bears Coach Nick Charlton said it’s time to change things up. A 33-23 home loss to Elon may have crippled Maine’s playoff hopes. And it resulted from the same mistakes that have plagued the Black Bears all season:

• Maine had six penalties for 80 yards, including four 15-yarders. Maine has the most penalties in the CAA (37) and averages a league-high 73.8 penalty yards per game.

• Trailing by just three after three quarters, Maine did not score in the fourth. The Black Bears have been outscored 45-0 in the fourth quarter.

• Maine’s defense struggled on third down, allowing Elon to convert 12 of 17 third-down plays (71 percent). The Black Bears are last in the CAA in that category, allowing opponents to convert 41.2 percent of their third-down opportunities (28 of 62).

• Maine held the ball for only 22:01 and ranks last in the CAA with an average time of possession at 26:53.

Charlton said the Black Bears are looking at everything to figure out why these things keep happening and how to turn them around.

“I think we’ve had some really serious conversations and I think it started on Sunday, and when you look at that game, we felt we let one go there,” said Charlton. “So we’ve had serious, honest conversations with the players and staff about where we’re at and what we have to do. It’s mostly systemic issues that need to get fixed – discipline and how we operate. We can’t expect to do the same things and expect different results.”

Charlton said they will look at the schemes being used, how practices are run, and the personnel on the field. He was emphatic in his team meetings that the penalty statistic has to change.

“It has got to come to a stop,” he said. “This has been systemic and it’s got to be something that gets fixed. Sunday, in our conversations, we talked about that. … The players now have to understand that they have to play the right way. These aren’t new things. To me, I’m the head coach, it’s my job to take care of these issues.”

The other issues are all related. If a defense can’t stop the opposing offense on third down, the offense doesn’t get the ball, limiting its time of possession and ability to score. Then again, if the offense held the ball longer, the defense wouldn’t face so many crucial third-down plays.

Tight end Shawn Bowman, who is third on the team in catches with 12, said the lack of fourth-quarter scoring “is painful.”

“It’s something we have to improve on,” he continued. “It’s in the back of our minds, working on finishing games.”

“I wish I could pinpoint exactly one thing why it’s happening,” said wide receiver Andre Miller, who leads Maine with 21 catches. “Sometimes it seems, in the game, the tides turn. The last couple of games, we’ve had some good drives to the red zone and just didn’t cash in. You’re not going to win many games that way.”

Both Bowman and Miller said it comes down to execution, all 11 offensive players operating in sync.

“I’m confident with the direction we’re going in,” said Bowman. “We’ve got to take some of the load off the defense and finish our drives. Sometimes they’re on the field for 11, 12 plays, then we get the ball back and we’re only out there for three, four, five plays. We’ve got to make it easier on them.”

And, said Miller, it’s got to start soon. “It’s all stacked against us now,” he said. “We’ve got to get going.”

They believe this team can still come together and have a successful finish to the season. So does Charlton.

“We’re not where we want to be right now,” said Charlton. “But there’s not a player or coach in this building who’s having conversations about next year. We owe it to these guys to live in the moment. This team is not done yet.”

 


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