Football: Tribe commits six turnovers, falls 21-10 in sloppy matchup at Rhode Island

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The Tribe offense never got going in a 21-10 defeat to Rhode Island. JAMIE HOLT // THE FLAT HAT

After its second-consecutive home victory in the Colonial Athletic Association, William and Mary traveled to Rhode Island to take on the Rams for the first time since 2013. The College had just pulled off an upset on Homecoming at Zable Stadium against Maine, which was previously undefeated in conference and tied for first place in the CAA. The Tribe overcame a slow start and several key injuries to shock the 16th-ranked Black Bears. On the other hand, the Rams entered Saturday’s game on a two-game losing streak, dropping them to 2-2 in conference, identical to the Tribe. After losing to Maine in a tight game, the Rams were blown out by Stony Brook, 52-14, last weekend. In a pivotal conference matchup for both teams, inclement weather virtually incapacitated each team’s passing attack, and the Tribe (3-5, 2-3 CAA) squandered an early lead with a staggering six turnovers for the game, en route to a 21-10 loss to the Rams (5-3, 3-2 CAA).

After much uncertainty about who would start at quarterback this week due to injuries, sophomore quarterback Ted Hefter started the game under center for the College. Last weekend, Hefter came into the game in the second quarter after fellow sophomore quarterback Dean Rotger, who was starting in place of the injured sophomore quarterback Shon Mitchell, was injured against the Black Bears. Additionally, redshirt senior wide receiver DeVonte Dedmon returned after sitting out last week due to an injury he sustained against Towson.

After trading three-and-outs to start the game, the College got the ball back for the second time and took the lead on an unpredictable play that involved two turnovers. On third down, Hefter dropped back and threw a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, and Rams linebacker Branyan Javier-Castillo stepped under it to secure the interception. However, sophomore running back Nate Evans tracked down Javier-Castillo and stripped the ball, forcing a fumble. Evans recovered the fumble and scampered 71 yards for a scoop and score to put the College up 7-0 with 9 minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.

The Rams failed to pick up a first down again on their drive after the College took the lead; however, the Rams evened the score directly off another Tribe turnover. Punter Anthony Garro kicked a 45-yard punt to the Tribe’s four-yard line, where senior wide receiver Jack Armstrong muffed the punt and defensive back Momodou Mbye recovered the fumble in the endzone to tie the game, 7-7 midway through the first quarter.

Less than two minutes later, Hefter threw his second interception for the College’s third turnover in the first 10 minutes of game. The Rams took over at the 17-yard line, then benefitted from a pass interference call that negated an interception of their own. After the penalty, the Rams were set up for 1st and goal at the three-yard line. Two plays later, running back Naim Jones broke through the Tribe defense to put the Rams up 14-7. On the ensuing kickoff, the College put the ball on the ground yet again for its fourth turnover of the opening quarter. Redshirt freshman Owen Wright coughed the ball up, setting the Rams up at the College’s 29-yard line. The first play of the drive was a 28-yard run by Jones, but it was called back due to holding. The Rams picked up one first down after a fourth down conversion, but the drive stalled at the 20-yard line. Kicker C.J. Carrick missed a 37-yard field goal to keep the score at 14-7. In the second quarter, the Rams chewed up most of the clock with a drive that took 8:55. However, the Rams were forced to punt from the Tribe’s 47-yard line. Garro’s punt was blocked by freshman cornerback Ryan Poole, giving the Tribe great field position at the Rams’ 39-yard line. The College could not capitalize on the blocked punt and only gained one yard on the drive. Neither team threatened to score for the rest of the half, and the teams went to the locker room with the Rams leading 14-7.

The Rams got the ball to start the second half, but quickly went three-and-out, forcing Garro to punt again. This time, Garro’s punt traveled only eight yards, setting the Tribe up at the 30-yard line. After not cashing in on good starting field position last time, the College managed to cut into the Rhode Island lead this drive. The College picked up one first down and then nearly got a touchdown on a pass from Mitchell, who entered the game in the third quarter for Hefter. Mitchell looked to Dedmon in the end zone, but Dedmon was unable to hang on as he went to the ground. Two plays later, Mitchell threw another incomplete pass intended for sophomore tight end Nick Muse, forcing junior kicker Kris Hooper to attempt a 34-yard field goal. Hooper split the uprights to trim the Rams’ advantage to 14-10.

Late in the third quarter, after back-to-back scoreless drives for the two teams, the Rams got the ball at their own 31-yard line. After a gain of two yards on first down, quarterback Vito Priore aired the ball out on second down, hitting wide receiver Aaron Parker in stride. Parker streaked down the right sideline and into the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown. Carrick tacked on the extra point to give the Rams their largest lead of the afternoon, 21-10, with 1:53 remaining in the third. The College nearly cut the game to one possession at the start of the fourth quarter after it moved into scoring position on a 42-yard completion from Mitchell to Dedmon. Three plays later, Mitchell tried to extend the drive on a designed quarterback run but was tackled for a three-yard loss. Hooper trotted out to try to cut the deficit to eight, but his 33-yard field goal tailed left, and the score remained 21-10. The College had one more chance to get itself back in the game, but the Tribe was forced to go for it on fourth down in its own territory. Mitchell was sacked and fumbled on the fourth-down play for the College’s sixth turnover of the game. The Rams could not put another touchdown on the board, but they still picked up a 21-10 victory to end their two-game losing skid.

The Rams were paced by Priore’s 94 yards on 7-12 passing and one touchdown. Jones had 37 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown. The Rams’ defense also came up with three interceptions. In its loss, the College was led by Mitchell’s 51 passing yards on two completions. Evans had nine carries for 97 yards and a touchdown, and Dedmon added two catches for 38 yards.

While the Rams will travel to Elon next week, the Tribe will have its bye week. Nov. 10, the College will resume its season with its final road game of the season against Villanova. The Tribe will look to continue its pattern of alternating wins and losses in the CAA and move its conference record back to .500.