The Mike London era in Williamsburg began on a triumphant note Saturday, with three forced fumbles sparking a 24-0 scoring run that paved the way to a 30-17 opening night victory for William and Mary (1-0) over Lafayette (0-1).
The Tribe started the season on defense, and after an opening first down, the Leopards drive was stalled by a sack from sophomore defensive end Carl Fowler and a second shared sack between Fowler and senior nose tackle Bill Murray.
After a punt, the Tribe offense snatched the momentum with a 49–yard pass off a lateral flipped from junior quarterback Ted Hefter to graduate transfer Kilton Anderson, who lofted a rainbow to junior wide receiver Zach Burdick. All four listed quarterbacks were on the field for the Tribe and succeeded in catching the Leopards off guard. The offense was stifled in the red zone, but sophomore kicker Jake Johnston split the uprights to put the College up 3-0 with 8:54 left in the first quarter.
On the Leopards’ next possession, the unorthodox football continued with a tipped ball dropping into the arms of wide receiver Julius Young for a 35-yard gain. The running game then kept the drive alive, culminating in a 13-yard scramble into the end zone for quarterback Cole Northrup to take a 7-3 lead for the Leopards.
The following kickoff dealt a gut punch to the Tribe, with a fumble on the return setting the Leopards up at the College’s 27-yard line. A sack by junior defensive end Will Kiely forced a 42-yard field goal, which the Leopard kicker pushed to the right to give the Tribe the football back at the 26-yard line. Freshman quarterback Hollis Mathis and Anderson then co-piloted a drive that reached the Lafayette four-yard line but resulted in a second Johnston field goal to cut the Leopard lead to one.
The Leopards began the second quarter with a mix of runs and passes that advanced into the red zone and resulted in a 31-yard field goal, making it 10-6 Leopards with 10:49 remaining in the half. A 24-yard rush up the middle by sophomore running back Owen Wright and 27-yard catch-and-run from fellow back Albert Funderburke sparked the next drive for the College, but despite advancing to the Leopard’s one-yard line, the Tribe failed to score, missing a 22-yard field goal to remain four points behind.
A chase-down tackle by sophomore linebacker Trey Watkins stopped the Leopard possession and a near punt block resulted in the College receiving the ball at its own 45 with 4:50 left in the half. After three short runs, a punt from Mathis pinned the Leopards at their own eight-yard line, and after the drive advanced to the Tribe 27-yard line, Murray recorded his seventh career blocked field goal to carry some momentum into halftime, despite the 10-6 deficit.
The Tribe opened the second half with a series of runs from Mathis, followed up by a 19-yard catch by freshman wide receiver Kane Everson to reach the Leopard 12-yard line. Wright then took a pitch from Mathis and won the footrace to the front right corner of the end zone for the first Tribe touchdown of the year. London then opted to go for two and a Burdick rush gave the College its largest lead of the night, 14-10, with 10:24 left in the third quarter.
The Tribe retained the momentum in the following sequence, with cornerback freshman Latrelle Smith forcing a Leopard fumble recovered by Kiely at the Leopard 34-yard line. Mathis guided the offense into the red zone, and a Wright catch-and-run moved down to the two-yard line. However, once again the offense failed to find the end zone, and Johnston’s third field goal of the day made it 17-10 with 6:03 remaining in the third.
A second defensive game changer then ensued, with sophomore linebacker Jarrett Heckert forcing another Leopard fumble, which Fowler secured at the Lafayette 25-yard line. Wright then dashed into the end zone for an 11-yard score, extending the lead to 24-10 courtesy of 18 unanswered points.
Now in full control, the Tribe defense forced a third fumble, with senior safety Isaiah Laster poking the ball free and senior cornerback Corey Parker recovering it at the Leopard 20-yard line. Mathis directed the offense deep into Lafayette territory, and earned the third Tribe touchdown with a three-yard touchdown run, giving him 88 rushing yards on the day.
Lafayette finally broke the deja-vu-like sequence on their next possession, motoring past midfield. They advanced to the Tribe 28-yard line but turned it over on downs with 11 seconds remaining in the third. The Tribe offense continued to fire on all cylinders, with Mathis showcasing elusiveness and speed to eclipse 100 rushing yards for the game. After a punt, the defense continued its domination, forcing a three-and-out. After a Tribe turnover on downs, linebacker Kevin Jarrell nabbed an interception for the defense’s fourth turnover forced on the day. The College tried to capitalize once again, but a 47-yard field goal attempt from senior place kicker Kris Hooper caught the right upright.
The Leopards marched down the field on their next series, entering the Tribe red zone with under six minutes to play. A holding penalty negated what would have been a 16-yard touchdown, but Leopard running back John Gay hauled in a 26-yard touchdown catch-and-run on the following play for the first Leopard points in the second half to make it 30-17 Tribe with 4:42 remaining. The College burned clock on the following drive on several rushes from junior running back Jaret Anderson but turned it over on downs on the Leopards’ 27 with 1:47 to play. The Tribe defense then forced one final turnover on downs to secure the 13-point victory.
Mathis finished with 66 passing yards and a game-high 127 rushing yards with a touchdown. After the game, he credited the support around him for the successes.
“Exhilarating,” Mathis said of the experience. “It was really fun, especially because I have such a great group of guys all around me. The front line held up great for me all game; the defense had our backs. It was fun, stress free because I knew we were so prepared. The coaches did a great job getting us ready for the game, everybody did their part and I just had to do mine.”
London was complimentary of his freshman signal caller, even if his ball security occasionally caused his heart rate to rise.
“This guy to my right, he can make it happen,” London said of Mathis. “I’m a little nervous sometimes, when he carries the ball like a muffin, but at the same time, he made some plays and extended drives for us.”
Fowler echoed his coach’s view, reflecting on the difficulty of chasing Mathis in training camp and practices.
“It’s nice knowing in practice that you’re chasing the fastest guy you’re going to play all year, and that’s just a testament to what kind of player he is,” Fowler said. “It definitely gets us ready for any running quarterback we might have because it adds another aspect to the game.”
Momentum-generating plays on both sides of the ball proved a theme of the night and London stressed focus throughout as a key cause.
“First of all, very happy for the win,” London said. “I thought our guys played well, particularly the second half. Seven sacks, four turnovers, an interception, big plays, both defensively and offensively.”
After the back-and-forth first half, the Tribe scored 24 straight points and shut the Leopards out for over 35 minutes, taking control of the game. London credited halftime adjustment and attention to detail for the effort.
“The quarterback was their leading rusher coming out of the half; we had to dedicate ourselves and make sure we were handling our responsibilities,” London said. “They were amped up to play, and just focusing on the task at hand, play by play; the second half was a testament to guys not cracking, they played the game plan, and we’re very happy for them.”
The Tribe will travel to Charlottesville, Virginia to face off against Virginia Sept. 6, in a cross-state rivalry.