Football: Wildcats squeak by Tribe on Family Weekend, win 35-28

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Jamie Holt/The Flat Hat

William and Mary (2-4, 0-2 CAA) fell to fifth-ranked Villanova (6-0, 3-0 CAA) Saturday in a back-and-forth slugfest, coming back from a 21-7 deficit to tie the game at 28 before ultimately falling 35-28.

Graduate transfer Kilton Anderson started the game for the Tribe over injured freshman signal-caller Hollis Mathis and had a career day, totaling 245 passing yards and three touchdowns while completing 76 percent of his passes. Freshman wide receiver Kane Everson also stuffed the stat sheet, amassing 131 yards on 11 receptions and two scores.

The College opened the game on offense and Anderson wasted no time hitting Everson with two quick passes to advance to the 40-yard line. A dart to sophomore running back Owen Wright picked up a third first down and runs from Anderson and freshman safety Bronson Yoder, who played offense for the College, advanced the Tribe into the red zone. Everson then caught his third pass in the right flat and broke a tackle to cross the goal line and give the College a 7-0 advantage with 10 minutes, 3 seconds left in the opening period.

A penalty on the ensuing kickoff forced the Wildcats’ offense to start its day at its own 4-yard line. After two opening stuffs by the Tribe defensive line, Wildcats running back Justin Covington escaped for a 23-yard run to reach the 32-yard line. The defense stopped them there, and a punt set the offense up at its own 23-yard line for its second drive.

On the first play of the drive, Everson caught another pass in the right flat, but a quick tackle from Wildcats linebacker Forrest Rhyne poked the ball free to give Villanova the ball on the Tribe 17-yard line. Two plays later, a 3-yard Covington rush tied the game 7-7 with 6:13 to play in the first.

The College went three-and-out on its next series, and a short punt set up the Wildcats at the Tribe 37-yard line with under five minutes to play in the period.

A tackle for loss by junior defensive end Will Kiely helped force Villanova into a 3rd and 10, but a 20-yard catch from wide receiver Changa Hodge converted it and moved down to the Tribe 17.  On the following play, a 16-yard bullet from quarterback Daniel Smith to wide receiver Jaaron Hayek doubled the Wildcats’ advantage, making it 14-7 with two minutes left in the quarter.

The offense set up shop at the 22-yard line to begin its next possession. After an opening rush from Wright, an 8-yard sack from Rhyne forced a second consecutive three-and-out and the Tribe punt rolled to the Villanova 48-yard line. After the 77-yard opening drive, the other three first quarter possessions for the College netted a collective 19 yards.

The next Wildcat series advanced past midfield and the Tribe defense forced a 3rd and 14 at its 34-yard line with 12 minutes left in the second quarter. A 13-yard completion left fourth down and less than a yard and a quarterback sneak out a Wildcat first down in the red zone. Two plays later, running back DeeWil Barlee broke free for a 15-yard touchdown run to extend the Villanova lead to 21-7 with just over 10 minutes left in the half.

A failure to convert a 3rd and 1 resulted in the offense’s third three-and-out in a row, and the Wildcats once again took over with good field possession, this time at their own 38-yard line. The defense forced a 3rd down and long, but a 39-yard dart over the middle to sophomore wide receiver Dez Boykin advanced to the Tribe 26-yard line. The defense held strong, forcing the Wildcats into a 41-yard field goal attempt from junior placekicker Drew Kresge, which fell just short of the crossbar.

A 10-yard Anderson scramble on the ensuing possession earned the offense its first 1st down since the opening drive and Everson’s fourth catch of the day moved past midfield. An 18-yard sprint from freshman running back Donavyn Lester and a 10-yard run from senior running back Albert Funderburke then motored the Tribe down to the Wildcat 16. On the following play, Anderson lofted a high pass to wide receiver Zach Burdick in the end zone, which the junior hauled in to make it 21-14 with 2:51 remaining in the half.

The defense forced another 3rd and long on the next Villanova possession, but a 26-yard completion moved the chains and advanced the ball to the Tribe 38-yard line. The Wildcats motored down to the 25-yard line with just over a minute to play, but the defense forced a 34-yard field goal, which Kresge pushed to the right, his second miss of the day.

The offense took over at its own 20-yard line with 1:03 to play and two more throws to Everson crossed the midfield stripe. A 4-yard completion to junior wide receiver Jordan Lowery resulted in 4th and inches, but the Wildcats stuffed Anderson’s sneak attempt to regain possession and close out the half.

Villanova started the second half on offense with several rushes and a catch off a deflected pass to reach their own 45-yard line. The Tribe forced a 3rd down on its own 48, but the Wildcats converted on a 10-yard rush from running back TD Ayo-Durojaiye. Two plays later, Tribe senior cornerback Corey Parker went untouched on a corner blitz and forced a fumble, which was recovered by senior linebacker Arman Jones at the Tribe 24-yard line.

The Wildcats’ defense forced an incomplete pass on a 3rd down in Tribe territory, but a roughing the passer penalty gave the College new life on the Villanova 47-yard line. After a sack, Everson snatched his ninth reception of the day to advance the ball six more yards. A Yoder rush converted a 3rd and 2 and a Funderburke run moved inside the 30. On 3rd down at the 26, Anderson rolled out before pushing a makeshift chest pass to Burdick, who grabbed it near the sideline and darted 20 yards down to the Villanova six. On 3rd and goal, Yoder took a direct snap and powered down near the goal line. He came up short, but an unsportsmanlike conduct foul gave the College a first down with inches to go. After two stuffs up the middle, Yoder took a direct snap and beat the defenders to the right pylon to tie the game at 21 with 1:51 left.

The Tribe defense forced a 3rd and 3 on the next Wildcat possession, but a five-yard pass moved Villanova up to its own 38-yard line to end the third quarter.

An 11-yard keeper by Smith advanced the Wildcat drive to midfield to begin the final quarter and a 14-yard Barlee run inched inside the Tribe 40-yard line. On the following play, Hayek got behind the secondary for a 37-yard dagger to put the Wildcats back up, 28-21.

Yoder fielded the ensuing kickoff at the goal line and sliced through the Wildcat coverage to give the Tribe its best starting field position of the day at its own 40-yard line. A 13-yard pass to Burdick moved past midfield, and a 12-yard run from Anderson secured another first down. After a negative rush, an Anderson pass was intercepted downfield, but a pass interference call on the Wildcats negated the pick and gave the Tribe a fresh set of downs on the Wildcat 29-yard line. A nine-yard catch by Lowery forced 3rd and 1 on the 20, but a lunge from Wright was inches short. On the 4th down, Anderson found Everson cutting across the middle for a 20-yard touchdown, his tenth reception of the contest.

The Wildcats advanced near midfield on the following drive and converted a 3rd and 6 to move into Tribe territory and quiet the crowd. A series of strong runs from Ayo-Durojaiye and running back Jalen Jackson pushed into the red zone and a stop from senior linebacker Nate Atkins forced a 3rd and 3 at the Tribe 12-yard line. Sophomore safety Gage Herdman stopped Smith inches short, but a quarterback keeper on 4th down gained the necessary half-yard. The Wildcats continued to chew clock, with another Barlee rush advancing to the Tribe five-yard line with under three minutes to play.

The stop from Herdman and sophomore defensive end Carl Fowler forced a 3rd and goal on the five-yard line and a pass over the middle reached the one. The Wildcats came out in a power formation on the 4th and goal and ran a play action pass, which Smith converted on a one-yard toss to Barlee to make it 35-28 Wildcats with 1:59 left.

A kickoff out of bounds set the College up at its own 35-yard line to begin its two-minute drill. A toe-tap catch from Burdick advanced the ball to the Wildcat 49-yard line and a catch-and-run from Lester in the left flat reached the 45. On the ensuing 3rd and 6, Villanova brought pressure and sacked Anderson at the 46-yard line to bring up a 4th and 7.

A 13-yard slant completion to Everson moved the chains for the Tribe and another catch by Lester reached the 30-yard line with 48 seconds to go. Two incompletions then brought up another 4th and 7, which resulted in a throw just wide of a diving Everson to turn the ball over on downs. The Wildcats kneeled the ball and walked away with the seven-point victory.

Tribe head coach Mike London praised the fight his team showed against a top opponent in the Football Championship Subdivision.

“First of all, tough loss for this football team,” London said. “You’re playing a number-one team in the conference, a top-five team in FCS football and you have opportunities to win a football game, it’s disappointing. I’m very proud of this team in terms of their effort, their grit, their resilience, never-die attitude.”

After being down 21-7, building and retaining momentum became a premium, which London prides as a strong suit of the team thus far in the season.

“It’s always important about momentum, but the thing about this team is they’ve learned you can’t let emotions get you so high or so low that you can’t respond back to that,” London said. “This team has learned that it’s not over till it’s over, and the pendulum of emotions is dictated by guys like this, that have played in college football games, have been there, done that.”

Anderson echoed his coach’s sentiment and credited his team’s resiliency.

“I’m proud our guys never gave up,” Anderson said. “That’s a big leap forward for our team, not allowing ourselves to get down and look backward. We looked forward the whole game and kept going.”

London noted a number of younger players had significant impact against the Wildcats in addition to the veterans. Yoder in particular had a heightened role in a variety of facets, amassing 118 yards on kick returns, 14 yards rushing with a touchdown and even 12 passing yards on the game.

“Try to identify ‘ball-in-hand’ guys,” London said. “Kickoff, punt returns, jet sweeps, or Wildcat direct snaps, he’s got a skill set that we need to, and we will, keep utilizing. He had a great play on one of those touchdown runs and broke a tackle; on one of the kickoff returns he did a great job. He has established himself as a really good freshman with a lot of talent that we’re going to keep trying to find ways to get the ball.”

The Tribe will return to action Oct. 19 on homecoming weekend when it takes on James Madison.