The roar of the sold-out student section only grew as the clock ticked down its last five seconds. In their first game at home for the 2022 season, the Tribe (2-0) conquered the Campbell University Camels (1-1) for a final score of 37-21.
The Tribe’s varied, explosive running game proved to be the hardest obstacle for the Camels. Its offense totaled 392 yards, and 271 of those came from rushing alone. Senior running back Bronson Yoder and sophomore running back Malachi Imoh rushed 99 and 89 yards respectively, more than all of Campbell’s running game combined.
William and Mary’s depth and offensive skills were hard to anticipate. Where Yoder barreled through defenders, Imoh weaved and deked. Even the switch-offs from sophomore quarterbacks Darius Wilson and Hollis Mathis kept the Camels on their toes. The Tribe’s refusal to play a one-note game, letting its roster of skilled players shine with new routes and plays, proved to be a winning strategy.
“Any of them could run the distance with them, get tough yardage, catch it out in the backfield, run between tackles, run outside on the perimeter, so it’s just a matter of trying to put the right pieces together,” head coach Mike London said.
But, the game opened slowly while the Tribe found its footing. It chose to receive on the coin toss, but its first drive was cut short by a third down penalty. Sophomore kicker Ethan Chang nailed a 30-yard field goal to get the Tribe on the board first.
Though the Camels’ first drive was unproductive, the Tribe’s defense got their first look at the nimble Campbell redshirt junior quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams. Williams would go on to rush 91-yards, including two touchdowns.
The Tribe scored its first touchdown off of a turnover that ended Campbell’s first drive. A pair of deep passes from Wilson, some rushes from Mathis and an eight-yard push from senior running back Donavyn Lester pushed the Tribe down the field and into the endzone. Lester received credit for the touchdown at 3:26, and Chang’s kick was good.
Now up 10-0 to start the second quarter, the Tribe shut down the end of Campbell’s late-first-quarter drive, and tried to regain momentum. Unfortunately, they ping-ponged around the Tribe 12-yard line and punted after a three and out. Tribe senior kicker Will Whitehurst sent the ball straight up. The crowd held its breath as the ball reached the peak of its arc, then gasped as it came straight back down to where Whitehurst was standing. Campbell’s offense took over the field right where the Tribe had been, at their own 18-yard line.
The turnover was rendered harmless by a clutch interception from redshirt freshman cornerback Jalen Jones. Making use of its new possession, the Tribe blitzed down the field. Senior wide receiver Caylin Newton threw a completed pass for a short gain. Yoder, Wilson and Mathis rushed. Wilson finished up the variety show with a short middle pass for the Tribe’s second touchdown.
Campbell returned Chang’s kickoff to their own 18-yard line, and the Camels seemed hungry to get their first points of the game. Williams passed for 11 yards, then rushed for 13, forcing his way up to the Tribe 44-yard line with about two minutes remaining in the half. The Camels thwarted the Tribe’s defense with a quick no-huddle offense. Putting trust in Williams’s playmaking, the Camels eventually completed a 21-yard pass for a touchdown. The half ended with a score of 17-7.
The second half began with two Tribe errors that resulted in a Campbell comeback. The first Campbell possession of the half wasn’t promising for the Camels — however, on the punt return Newton muffed the ball, and Campbell was able to recover the ball at the Tribe 19-yard line. After the next three downs, it again seemed like Campbell was unable to make sufficient forward progress. Campbell went for it on the fourth down, but a Tribe illegal formation penalty gave them an automatic first down and five yards. Williams rushed and scored on the next play.
After a frustrating drive, the Camels were now within spitting distance of the Tribe’s early lead.
Yoder and Wilson were critical in moving the ball up from the Tribe’s own 25-yard line into the redzone. Each progression was hard-fought, but the Tribe seemed determined to pull ahead. On a shotgun play, Imoh rushed the ball through the Camels’ defensive line, resulting in a 20-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, the Tribe’s defense didn’t let up. Jones caught another interception and returned it for a 33-yard pick-six.
The crowd went wild, inspiring another Tribe touchdown just two minutes later. Imoh took off like a jet with the ball, rushing 56 yards for what would be the Tribe’s final touchdown of the game. This time, Chang’s extra point missed low.
When the third quarter ended, so did the scoring. Each team held the other through the fourth, culminating in a Tribe win, 37-21.
“It’s just one of those things, the sum total of all of us together for this team adds up to more than the other team, and that’s what it was tonight,” London said.
Though there were a few long, hard-fought drives in the fourth, the play of note was Jones catching his third interception of the night. With four minutes left in the game, Jones leapt up to block another Williams pass and caught the ball in the process. The catch marked the first time a single Tribe member has intercepted the ball three times in one game since 2009.
“He was able to step in, step up, show up, show out. To get three interceptions today, one for a touchdown, I think that’s incredible,” London said of Jones.
The Tribe will play again next Saturday in Easton, Pennsylvania against Lafayette (0-2) at 3:30 p.m.