It was the end of the beginning. William and Mary head coach Mike London ended his inaugural season as the head coach in Williamsburg in style Nov. 23, as the Tribe (5-7, 3-5 CAA) prevailed in the 130th clash for the Capital Cup against fierce rivals Richmond (5-7, 4-4 CAA) by a score of 21-15. It was the Tribe’s second gut-wrenching overtime victory of the month.
The battle was born under punches delivered by devastating defenses hailing from each sideline. Tribe senior safety Miles Hayes set the tone; he forced a fumble on the opening possession. However, the offense couldn’t muster a march out of the momentum and punted after just three plays. The Tribe defense saw this as no sign to call off the dogs. Senior defensive back Corey Parker kept his foot on the throat of the Spiders struggling offense when he snagged a ball that bounced off the hands of Richmond receiver Charlie Fessler to generate the second defensive turnover in as many outings. After that, the first quarter ended in a ping-ponging of punts. The war over field position raged on.
Something had to give, and the stalemate was broken with an exciting sequence. Fessler botched an early second quarter punt and sophomore safety Gage Herdman plopped on top of the loose ball. This time, the Tribe finally capitalized by converting a turnover into points. Freshman running back Bronson Yoder surged through a gaping hole for a 13-yard touchdown. Instead of kicking the extra point, London elected to go big instead of going home. Deploying a strange formation that spread the offensive line across the entirety of the field, junior quarterback Ted Hefter took the snap at the center of it all. What happened next was equal parts comical and heartwarming. Senior nose tackle Bill Murray — who had lined up along the sideline — made a break for the center of the field, where Hefter flung a pass in his direction. Murray corralled the pass and tucked the ball away before plunging toward the goal line, wearing the mask of a seasoned ball carrier along the way. The celebration was just as epic as the play itself; teammates swarmed Murray as he pounded the ball against his facemask. He then bridal carried freshman linebacker Trey Zgombic back toward the sideline. The Tribe moved ahead 8-0.
The Spiders refused to be squashed under the weight of the Tribe scoring. Quarterback Joe Mancuso led a field-goal drive that cut the lead to 8-3. The College then turned the ball over on downs — although they were inside the red zone. The Spiders made easy work of the long field, embarking on a 10–play, 87-yard drive that produced a touchdown for the lead. Fessler looked like a completely different player than the turnover-machine he was in the first quarter when he hauled in a 17-yard bullet for the score. The extra point gave the Spiders a 10-8 lead at halftime.
The Tribe started the second half in the exact opposite way they had started the first: turning the ball over. Filling in for a possession for banged-up freshman quarterback Hollis Mathis, Hefter negated a big 33-yard kickoff return by senior safety Cal Kee by forcing a pass into double coverage where Spiders defensive back Trent Williams made a juggling interception. The teams swapped punts. The Spiders tuned it over on downs and the Tribe missed a field goal. When the Spiders came knocking on the door again, senior safety Isiah Laster snagged an over-thrown Mancuso pass. The interception gave the Tribe the ball back, but its own end zone loomed ominously close behind. In a feeble attempt to traverse the field, the Tribe were forced to punt. Williams, though, had other plans for the Spiders. He burst through the line of scrimmage and slapped the ball off the foot of the punter past the back of the nearby end zone, resulting in a safety. Then, a pass interference penalty against Hayes transported the Spiders back into field goal range, where the kick was good. The five-point swing extended the Spiders lead to 15-8.
The Tribe desperately tied any hopes for a victory to the unlikely event of a big play after the offense stalled repeatedly as the fourth quarter clock grinded away. Freshman linebacker Isaiah Jones, who seemed to have spent all afternoon in the Spiders backfield, delivered a forceful blow off an edge blitz that forced Mancuso to lose his grip on the football. The teams fought to secure the fumble as it skidded across the turf like a hockey puck on solid ice. Unluckily for the Spiders, it looked like the ball had somehow become magnetically attracted to their endzone as it skipped along. Finally, somebody was able to grab hold of the rogue pigskin. It was senior defensive lineman Darius Fullwood that stumbled into the nearby endzone to complete the scoop and score. Senior kicker Kris Hooper defied the pressure cooker and nailed the extra point to knot the score at 15. Regulation ended in a rainstorm and in a tie. Thus, the game proceeded to overtime.
Fate aligned itself with the Tribe again when it won the overtime coin toss. Senior linebacker, and captain, Nate Atkins elected to send his defense out to the front lines first. The decision proved wise when the Spiders lined up for a 32-yard field goal attempt to take the lead. They failed to recognize that Murray was about to do what he has done best over his spectacular Tribe career: block a kick. Murray bullied a hapless blocker on his way across the line of scrimmage. He then raised a massive paw toward the sky where the rain-soaked football skimmed off his soaring fingers. Thanks to Murray’s heroics, the kick was no good.
The Tribe offense went on to seal the deal on the subsequent possession. Mathis slung the ball over the head of a straggling Spider right into the number nine stitched to the front of junior wideout Zach Burdick’s jersey. Burdick secured the slippery ball as he hit the soaked red turf that spanned the end zone to clinch the victory and the Capital Cup.
It was a fitting end for the 2019 Tribe. This team took its beatings at times, without a doubt, but developed a knack for the miraculous: producing awe inspiring plays just when spectators would pronounce them dead. Obviously, this season was not everything Tribe fans had dreamed about following the strong start, but here at the end it still feels like a step in the right direction after a particularly uninspiring 4-6 campaign a year ago. The Tribe won three of its last four games, boasted the second-best rushing offense in the CAA, and discovered a number of exciting young starters such as Yoder, Mathis and Jones. It appears now as if London’s group is poised for success in the near future.
The Tribe improved its all-time record against Richmond to 63 wins, 62 losses and five ties. Following the season, Parker and Murray earned All-CAA honors along with junior fullback Tyler Crist, junior punt returner Jordan Lowery and senior offensive lineman Mark Williamson.