This season went off the rails rather quickly for William and Mary (3-6, 1-4 CAA). The Tribe looked dominant at home in a pair of wins back in late August and early September but had not won a game since. Still starving for a triumph over any Colonial Athletic Association rival and with little left to play for other than pride, head coach Mike London’s team entered the Saturday, Nov. 2, clash with Elon (4-5, 3-3 CAA) trapped under the shroud of a five-game losing skid.
The Tribe held a three-point advantage off sophomore kicker Jake Johnston’s field goal early in the game when the offenses woke up. Phoenix quarterback Davis Cheek led a methodical march to the Tribe end zone to claim the lead for the first time with 12 minutes remaining in the first half. On the ensuing Tribe possession, a three-pronged rushing attack of freshman quarterback Hollis Mathis, freshman do-it-all safety Bronson Yoder, and sophomore running back Owen Wright set the stage for the first Tribe touchdown. Junior tight end Anthony Mague reeled in a 32-yard bomb from Mathis for the first score of his career. The Tribe led 10-7.
The Phoenix offense was not discouraged. Again, Cheek picked apart the Tribe secondary. He cemented his first-half mastery with a four-yard touchdown toss to receiver Kortez Weeks. Cheek and company also used up nearly all that remained of the eight minutes left in the second quarter with the scoring drive. At halftime, the Phoenix led the Tribe 14-10.
To begin the third quarter, Yoder singlehandedly attacked the Phoenix on the ground. Three minutes into the second half, fellow freshman running back Donavyn Lester found the end zone and the Tribe retook the lead. Following an Elon punt, the College had the opportunity to amplify its lead starting with fantastic field position. Mathis looked dynamic, leading the Tribe into field goal range with his arm and his legs. But, Johnston failed to convert a 35-yard field goal. The score held. The Phoenix came back and delivered a field goal of their own. The game was knotted at 17.
When the Tribe got the ball back, an explosive 30-yard Yoder kickoff return preceded a 30-yard touchdown rush on the other end of the field by Wright. Johnston’s woes persisted as he missed the extra point, but the Tribe still held a 23-17 lead at the end of the third quarter. The Phoenix reached the Tribe red zone to start the fourth quarter. With its back against the wall, the Tribe defense came up with a crucial stop to force a field goal. The scoreboard read 23-20 Tribe. Defensive standouts included senior linebackers Gavin Johnson (3 sacks, 9 tackles) and Nate Atkins (11 tackles), as well as junior linebacker Tyler Crist (1 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss) and senior cornerback Corey Parker (4 passes defended, 1 blocked punt).
During the final sequence of regulation, the Tribe offense did what it could to put the game away, reaching field goal range twice, but walking away with no points both times. It started when Johnston couldn’t capitalize on a chip-shot 23 yarder. Then, the Phoenix tied the game again at 23 by responding with their own field goal. With a little over one minute to play, Crist’s 22-yard kickoff return granted the Tribe the field position it needed to move in for a game winning score. Despite nearly losing a fumble, Mathis advanced the ball deep enough into Phoenix territory to attempt a game winning field goal. Johnston was replaced by senior kicker Kris Hooper, but to no avail. The 49-yard try missed as time expired. Overtime began tied at 23.
The teams each recorded two missed field goals, a touchdown, and a turnover apiece for the first four overtime periods. For the Tribe, Mathis lost a fumble one yard away from what could have been a touchdown in the first overtime. When freshman cornerback Latrelle Smith intercepted Cheek in the second overtime, the Tribe had an opportunity to win the game with just a field goal. Johnston was reinstated for a shot at redemption. The 33-yard kick sailed outside the uprights. Mathis delivered a 25-yard dart to Mague in the third overtime to put the Tribe ahead. A two-point conversion failed. Cheek responded with a touchdown toss of his own, but Elon missed the two-point conversion attempt for the victory. Per National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, two-point tries are required for every touchdown after the second overtime. In the fourth overtime with the game tied at 29, both teams missed field goals.
A new college rule came into play in the 5th overtime. At this point, teams alternate two-point conversion tries alone, eliminating drives starting from the opponents 25-yard line. When Wright powered across the goal line on the Tribe’s first of these two-point only possessions and the defense held on Elon’s try, the game finally ended. The Tribe triumphed 31-29 and the five-game losing streak was over.
The College will attempt to keep this momentum going Nov. 9 as it takes on Rhode Island at Zable Stadium.