It was another week and another runaway victory for William and Mary. A week after crushing Hampton 31-7, the Tribe traveled to Easton, Pa. and trounced Lafayette 34-6.
Watching the game, it would be easy to forget that the College lost a close home opener to Lafayette last year in Williamsburg. Sour memories amplified head coach Jimmye Laycock’s feelings of the game.
“This is a team that beat us last year down there,” Laycock said to Tribe Athletics. “Came down here this time and it wasn’t even close, so I feel pretty good about it.”
The key difference between the two games was the performance of senior quarterback Michael Graham. After his lackluster start against Hampton, Graham answered critics in unusual ways. The Tribe’s offense lined up for its first play of the game, pinned on its own one-yard line. The call: a quarterback draw.
Graham miraculously turned the call into a 55-yard dash — there could not be a better portent for the game.
The play exemplified how the Tribe so easily won the game — superior blocking and controlling of the line of scrimmage. At the one-yard line, merely trying to avoid a safety, Graham pushed ahead with his blockers before finding ample daylight amidst a sea of would-be tacklers.
The College’s offensive linemen continued their superb start to the season by providing Graham with plenty of time in the pocket and opening up lanes for the running backs to break through for the entirety of the game.
Not known for his mobility, Graham displayed a dangerous new wrinkle to his game, rushing for 72 yards on six carries. After the long run to open up the game, Graham connected with junior wide out Sean Ballard for two quick first-down completions. Sophomore Mikal Abdul-Saboor took over for the last 30 yards, punching in his first of two touchdowns in the game. Graham finished 9 of 17, compiling 146 yards in the air.
The Tribe never looked back after its 99yard touchdown drive to open the contest. Three plays into Lafayette’s next offensive sequence, freshman linebacker Marcus Harvey turned an easy interception into six points, increasing the advantage to 13-0 with five minutes left to play in the first quarter.
If the Tribe defense hadn’t proved its preeminence at that point, it did early in the second quarter when junior linebacker Airek Green returned another interception for a touchdown. Harvey and Green’s touchdowns punctuated a dominating defensive performance. By the time the College defense scored 14 points, Lafayette had yet to make it into the red zone. The shutout lasted until the closing seconds of the first half, when Panthers kicker Ryan Gralish hit a 38-yard field goal.
Sure tackling and solid positioning keyed the College’s strong defensive output.
“We work on tackling drills every day of the week, so that’s become second nature to us,” Airek said. “Our speed is one of our assets and we used it tonight to perfection almost.”
Boosted by Graham’s elusiveness, the Tribe’s rushing attack had another big day. One week after amassing 277 yards on the ground, the Tribe’s runners ratcheted 245 yards. Abdul-Saboor again led the team, this time with 104 yards on 14 carries with two scores. It was Abdul-Saboor’s second straight 100-yard rushing performance. Freshman running back Kendall Anderson chipped in and scored his third touchdown in the last two games to put the Tribe up by 27 points with five minutes left in the first half.
Leading by 24 and without the urgency to score, the College went through a dry spell in the second half. The lone exception was a 79-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter, which featured 59 tough yards from Abdul-Saboor.
The defense, however, did not suffer from lethargy in the second half. Scouring the field, snuffing out Leopard opportunities, the defense limited Lafayette to another three-point half. Senior cornerback Ryan Smith led the team with ten tackles. Senior safety Jerome Couplin III, the Tribe’s top tackler in the previous two matchups, forced a fumble in the third quarter that was recovered by junior defensive tackle Jasper Coleman, ending a promising drive for the Leopards.
“The highlights obviously were the scores that we got on defense with Airek and Marcus making those plays,” Laycock said. “That certainly helped a lot, and I think the overall play of our defense was outstanding. We go on the road and held a team out of the end zone.”
Besides the seventeen points West Virginia scored in the second half of the season-opener, the College’s defense has not allowed more than seven points in any given quarter.
The Tribe goes for its third-straight victory next Saturday against its first Colonial Athletic Association opponent, Rhode Island (1-2, CAA 1-1), at Zable Stadium at 6 p.m.