Football: Tribe picks up first CAA win since 2016

0
5
The College staged a late comeback to knock off Albany. Jamie Holt / THE FLAT HAT

After storming out to a 7-0 lead over Colonial Athletic Association opponent Albany (2-3, 0-2 CAA) Saturday, William and Mary (2-3, 1-1 CAA) fell behind and appeared in danger of remaining winless in the conference. However, the College stormed back late in the fourth quarter to erase a 12-point deficit and claim a 25-22 victory.

The weekend prior to the Albany matchup, the Tribe lost its first home game of the year against Colgate. The College has been held scoreless in each of its last two games, losing 51-0 to James Madison and 23-0 to Colgate. The Tribe last scored Sept. 8 in its road game at Virginia Tech. Albany also came into the game winless in conference but entered on a two-game winning streak.

Contrary to other games this season, the Tribe jumped out to a fast start against the Great Danes with a touchdown on its opening drive. The College picked up two first downs to move the ball to midfield before sophomore quarterback Shon Mitchell connected with senior wide receiver DeVonte Dedmon. Mitchell hit Dedmon in stride inside the five-yard line, and Dedmon lunged into the end zone for the College’s first touchdown in three games. Junior kicker Kris Hooper tacked on the extra point to give the Tribe a 7-0 advantage with 12 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.

The College got the ball back 40 seconds later after junior linebacker Nate Atkins intercepted a pass by the Great Danes’ quarterback Vincent Testaverde. The Tribe took over at the Great Danes’ 23-yard line but was unable to move the ball and settled for a field goal attempt. Hooper could not extend the College’s lead and missed the 43-yard attempt wide to the right.

After each team had a short drive and was forced to punt, the Great Danes took over for their third possession of the game. The Great Danes had failed to move the ball into Tribe territory on their past two drives, but this time they drove to the College’s 41-yard line before the drive stalled. The big play of the drive for the Great Danes was a 24-yard run by running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, but they punted for the second time in the first quarter.

At the start of the second quarter, the Great Danes were able to cut into the Tribe’s lead with a 32-yard field goal. The Great Danes benefited from a short punt by sophomore punter Will Michael, setting them up at the College’s 35-yard line. However, they were unable to cash in with a game-tying touchdown and settled for a field goal by kicker Ethan Stark to pull the Great Danes within four points with 14:56 to play before the half.

The College got the ball back, only up 7-3, and once again failed to pick up a first down. This time, the Great Danes were finally able to capitalize on the Tribe offense’s inability to move the ball. They picked up a key third-down conversion. Two plays later, Ibitokun-Hanks burst into the clear for a 36-yard touchdown run. Ibitokun-Hanks’ touchdown gave the Great Danes their first lead of the afternoon, 10-7 with 10:31 left in the second quarter. The Tribe threatened to retake the lead after a 57-yard kickoff return by redshirt freshman running back Owen Wright, but the drive ended at the Great Danes’ 20-yard line. Mitchell threw his first interception of the game, giving the Great Danes a chance to extend their lead.

The Great Danes continued to benefit from a starting field position in Tribe territory. Michael’s punt was partially blocked, allowing the Great Danes’ drive to start at the 37-yard line. Nevertheless, the College’s defense stood tall and kept the Great Danes out of the end zone. Stark nailed his second field goal of the game to push their lead to 13-7 just before halftime. However, the Tribe answered back with a 39-yard field goal at the end of the first half to cut its deficit to 13-10 at halftime.

After deferring to receive the kickoff in the second half at the start of the game, the Great Danes had the first possession of the third quarter. Both offenses struggled to move the ball in the third quarter, and the first three drives ended in punts. The College had the first viable chance to score in the second half when it got the ball on the Great Danes’ 43-yard line after a short punt by Stark. The home team got as far as the Great Danes’ 16-yard line before a holding penalty forced the Tribe into a third-and-long. Mitchell completed a pass for 11 yards to junior wide receiver Jalen Christian, but the College still failed to convert on third down and had to settle for a field goal attempt. Hooper missed his second field goal of the day, allowing the Great Danes to cling to a 13-10 advantage at the start of the fourth quarter.

The Great Danes capitalized on Hooper’s miss by marching right down the field for a touchdown to give them their first two-possession lead of the game. The drive started with Testaverde completing a 42-yard pass down the right sideline to wide receiver Jerah Reeves. The Great Danes then used a strong rushing attack to move the ball down to the one-yard line. The Tribe defense stopped the Great Danes on first and second down, but running back Karl Mofor walked into the end zone on third-and-goal. The extra point was blocked, but the Tribe still trailed 19-10 with just over 12 minutes left in the game.

On the ensuing drive, the College went three-and-out, giving the ball back to the Great Danes, still trailing by nine. On the first play of the drive, Ibitokun-Hanks reeled off a 58-yard run deep into Tribe territory. Nevertheless, the College held the Great Danes to a field goal, keeping the game within two possessions. The Great Danes still maintained a 22-10 lead with just over seven minutes to play.

“[The defense] has been doing that all year, coming up with stops in the red zone,” head coach Jimmye Laycock ‘70 said.

The College bounced back quickly, putting together a four-play touchdown drive covering 73 yards. Dedmon had two long receptions on the drive, a 42-yard catch on the first play of the possession and a 17-yard touchdown grab to cap the drive.

“As an offense I really think we were the best unit we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Dedmon said.

Hooper added the extra point to pull the Tribe back within five points, 22-17 with 5:17 remaining in the conference matchup.

The Tribe’s defense forced the Great Danes into a three-and-out, and Dedmon nearly put the College ahead with a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown, but it was called back due to a penalty. Nevertheless, the Tribe started to move the ball steadily down the field as the clock ran under three minutes.

“I know I was fully confident, and I felt like the rest of the team felt that way, too,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell completed his first four passes of the drive before the Tribe faced a third down at the Great Danes’ 34-yard line. Sophomore running back Nate Evans burst through the hole on third down and picked up a first down on an 8-yard run.

The Tribe spent its first timeout of the half with 1:23 to play before Mitchell found Dedmon for another Tribe first down. On the next play, Mitchell was hit late, and the roughing the passer penalty put the ball at the six-yard line, setting the Tribe up for a first-and-goal with 56 seconds remaining. Mitchell called his own number and wiggled his way through the defense for a four-yard touchdown to give the College its first lead of the second half. The College successfully attempted a two-point conversion that put it up 25-22 with 50 seconds to play.

“For a young team that hasn’t [come from behind], that’s hard to do,” Laycock said. “It was pretty special.”

The Great Danes picked up one first down, but Testaverde threw an interception, and the Tribe held on for a 25-22 victory.

The Great Danes were led in the loss by a potent rushing attack. Ibitokun-Hanks racked up 221 yards on 25 carries. The College picked up its first win in the CAA since 2016 with help from strong efforts by Mitchell and Dedmon. Dedmon had seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Mitchell threw for 263 yards on 24 of 32 passes. He had two passing touchdowns and one rushing score.

“It feels great; I mean you see the smile on my face,” Mitchell said. “We have full confidence and trust in each other, and that’s just a testament to how today turned out.”

The College will go on the road next week for another CAA matchup against Towson, when the team will look to maintain the momentum from the comeback win over the Great Danes.