For the third straight week, the College of William and Mary (5-2, 3-1) emerged victorious in a homecoming contest, downing the University of Rhode Island (2-7, 0-5) 34-24 behind 249 total yards and a touchdown from senior quarterback Jake Phillips.
Frequently playing through a light rain, the Tribe overcame a lackluster first half – in which it was outgained 212 to 115 – to win its third straight conference game.
“It wasn’t the prettiest win by any means, but I think we did what we had to do to get a win,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said.
The game began bleakly for the Tribe as a lively Rhode Island offense held the football for well over 20 minutes of play. Quarterback Derek Cassidy continually kept a flat College defense off-balance with a mixture of short passes and designed quarterback runs as the Rams built a 10-7 halftime advantage, converting five of seven third down plays.
However, an acrobatic leaping interception in the Tribe end zone by redshirt freshman linebacker Jake Trantin kept the College within a possession and the Tribe roared back in the second half, running off 14 straight points to open the third quarter and take control of the game.
Five minutes into the fourth quarter, junior safety David Caldwell returned a questionable interception 62 yards for a score to provide a margin which the Rams could not overcome. On the play, it appeared as if senior linebacker Michael Pigram hit the intended receiver early, but the officials ruled the ball uncatchable, nullifying any potential pass interference penalty.
In the initial period, Rhode Island outplayed the Tribe, controlling the ball against the College’s defense – a unit which sorely missed the presence of senior linebacker and captain Josh Rutter, who was out with a foot injury. But an early rushing touchdown from freshman tailback Jonathan Grimes and Trantin’s interception kept the squad within striking distance at halftime.
Rejuvenated by the break, the Tribe swiftly pulled back into the game. Receiving the second half kickoff, Phillips drove his squad 65 yards down the field in four plays, hitting junior wide receiver D.J. McAulay on a gorgeous, 18-yard fade route for the score.
“We came out for the second half and knew we were getting the ball and everyone on the team just set their mind to it that we were going to go down there and score,” Phillips said. “We came out pretty motivated.”
After the Tribe defense forced a three and out on the ensuing Rhode Island possession, the College scored again on an eight-yard rushing touchdown for sophomore Courtland Marriner.
In response, the Tribe defense, which stuggled to keep the Rhode Island offense off the field in the first half, forced another three and out. But the ensuing punt hit senior safety David Houff in the back and the Rams recovered in Tribe territory, before driving down the field for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-17.
The College then added three points on a field goal from junior kicker Brian Pate, before Caldwell’s interception and return, his second score of the year, severely dented Rhode Island’s comeback hopes.
The win was marred, however, by a second quarter knee injury to senior wide receiver Elliott Mack, one of the team’s most influential and vocal leaders.
“You don’t want to see a guy go down and especially Elliott because he is such an impact player,” Phillips said.
Yet, despite the negatives of the afternoon, the Tribe could only be happy with the victory.
“It’s kind of a feeling of relief… of that we got away with one,” Laycock said. “We could have been upset today. Things could have gone the other way, but we made some plays here and there and came back [and won].”