Donned in pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, William and Mary (5-2, 3-1 CAA) put on a clinic for the 5,635 fans in attendance last Saturday, Oct. 24. They defeated Towson (3-4, 2-2 CAA) 40-14, marking a critical bounce back after their loss to Maine the previous week.
“Towson is a very good football team, but I believe this team made a statement,” said head coach Michael London in a press conference after the game. “That’s what it’s all about in the CAA when you’re playing good teams like this.”
Towson won the coin toss and deferred to William and Mary. Starting from their own 20 yard line, the Tribe ran the ball on all five plays of their opening possession. Two strong rushes from junior running back Donovyn Lester secured a pair of first downs for the Tribe, pushing them into Tiger territory. After taking the handoff from freshman quarterback Darius Wilson, junior running back Bronson Yoder took the ball all the way to the house for a 47 yard rushing touchdown.
On the ensuing possession, the Tigers quickly advanced into Tribe territory. Less than two minutes after the Tribe’s opening score, Towson matched William and Mary with an explosive offensive play of their own. Tiger quarterback Chris Ferguson launched the ball downfield to Tiger wide receiver Caleb Smith for a 47-yard touchdown, tying up the game at 7-7. Their first-drive touchdown was the last of the quarter.
William and Mary continued the trend of efficient offense on the next possession. Wilson passed downfield to senior wide receiver Zach Burdick on the first play of the drive for a 65 yard touchdown pass to reclaim the lead. The Tribe extended their lead less than five minutes later after junior cornerback Ryan Poole intercepted Ferguson’s pass. After two first downs, Lester ran the ball 21 yards to extend their lead to 14 points.
“In our last few games, we were unable to start the way we wanted to in the first half,” Lester said. “We would always find ourselves in a hole.”
Offensive coordinator Christian Taylor emphasized the importance of starting the game with more offensive momentum.
“Just having explosive plays early and building the confidence of the team is really what we needed,” Lester said, speaking of the team’s strategy going into the game.
The Tribe’s defense and offense came together in perfect harmony. The next two Towson drives were halted before significant forward momentum. The Tigers did not reach field goal territory. In addition, the Tribe scored one more touchdown for the quarter. Wilson passed off the ball at the 7 minute mark to Lester, who rushed for a 21-yard touchdown. Freshman kicker Ethan Chang’s kick was good. The Tribe topped the Tigers 21-7.
Late in the first quarter the Tigers put together a five and a half minute drive that included four first downs. Towson lost all their momentum when senior cornerback Tate Haynes intercepted Ferguson’s pass to reclaim possession for the Tribe. Haynes ran the ball back 43 yards, but a tripping penalty advanced them another 15 yards to the Tigers’ 27 yard line. After a short possession, Chang converted on a 28 yard field goal to extend the lead to 24-7.
The second quarter opened much slower than the first. Towson and the College went back and forth for a couple drives. The Tribe had an exciting turnover, where redshirt freshman Imoh Malachi intercepted a pass from Ferguson and scored. However, a William and Mary illegal block nullified the pick-six. Though William and Mary maintained possession, they did not score.
The second period was not completely scoreless. A late rush from Towson and another field goal from Chang in the final seconds of the quarter pushed the score to 27-14 heading into halftime.
William and Mary’s defense held strong in the third quarter, allowing just 38 total offensive yards. On the first possession of the half, senior linebacker Trey Watkins recovered a Towson fumble, bringing the Tribe offense back onto the field. A pair of long passes to senior wide receiver Cole Blackman advanced William and Mary all the way into the redzone. On the next play Lester ran it into the house, marking the only score of the third quarter.
The Tribe put together a solid eight play drive in the middle of the quarter to advance to the Tigers’ 21 yard line. A fumble from Malachi halted the Tribe’s momentum. But on the first play of the ensuing possession, sophomore linebacker Brayden Staib caught Ferguson’s third interception of the game. The turnover trend continued seven plays later when Wilson threw an interception in the red zone.
Hoping to take better care of the ball on offense, Towson put in Jeff Miller as quarterback. After six consecutive pass plays, junior defensive lineman Nate Lynn maneuvered around his blocker and strip-sacked Miller. Senior safety Gage Herdman recovered the ball and the Tribe retook possession near midfield.
To conclude another six yard drive, Lester scored his third rushing touchdown of the game from the one yard line. Chang missed the kick, resulting in a 40-14 lead. Both teams put together solid drives in the last ten minutes of the game, but neither were able to put more points on the board.
After a lackluster performance in Maine, Wilson finished the game with 164 passing yards and a touchdown. Lester and Yoder led the backfield with 99 and 82 rushing yards, respectively. In total, the Tribe finished with 339 rushing yards, an improvement over their impressive 258 yard outing last week.
While the Tribe’s fire power on offense was critical to the team’s success, the defense played an even greater role. William and Mary scored 23 points off six turnovers, which marks a season high for the Tribe.
Of individual note, Lynn recorded three sacks, including two stacks that contributed to the turnover count. Those sacks resulted in a total loss of 23 yards for Towson.
“Winning the turnover margin is a big point of emphasis for us as a team, especially for the defense,” said Lynn. “The offense can get it done without our help. But when we can give them good field position and keep the momentum on our side by getting the ball back, that’s always a plus.”
The Tribe hope to improve their conference record when they travel to Villanova next Saturday, Oct. 30.