Saturday, Sept. 24, William and Mary (3-1, CAA 0-1) Football’s perfect start to the season ended in a dramatic fashion. The Tribe lost to Elon (3-1, CAA 1-0) 35-31 at Zable Stadium after allowing 19 straight unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
William and Mary scored on their opening drive, which consisted of nine plays and 72 yards. Freshman quarterback Darius Wilson connected with redshirt freshman running back Malachi Imoh for a 10 yard pass to get the Family Day game and conference opener off to an electric start.
Five minutes later, on the first play of the ensuing drive, Wilson found senior wide receiver Caylin Newton downfield. Newton took the football 75 yards to the endzone for the second Tribe score of the game. Sophomore kicker/punter Ethan Chang converted the extra point and William and Mary increased its lead to 14, sending a jolt of enthusiasm through the crowd.
Elon responded with a series of quick passes that eventually culminated with redshirt freshman running back Jalen Hampton’s three yard touchdown run to cut the Tribe lead in half.
The second quarter opened with a quick Phoenix field goal, but it was the Tribe who would continue to dominate on offense. Imoh cashed in his second touchdown of the game off a nine-yard run. Senior tight end Lachlan Pitts snagged an 18-yard pass from Wilson for another touchdown to establish the largest lead of the night for the Tribe at 28-10.
After halftime, the teams switched roles. The Tribe gave up four turnovers, amounting to half as many as they allowed in their first three games. Poor ball security, coupled with a reorganized and rejuvenated Elon defense, sank the Tribe’s previously impenetrable ship.
In the third quarter, William and Mary’s defense was able to keep up with their opponents, as they held Elon to only one score. This Elon touchdown came halfway into the third off a fumble by Wilson. Elon recovered the ball on the Tribe 17-yard line. From there, the Phoenixes made no mistakes, and redshirt senior quarterback Matthew McKay found senior wide receiver Bryson Daughtry in the endzone for the 18-yard score. With three minutes left in the quarter, Chang converted a field goal through the uprights from 46 yards out to record the final score of the game for the Tribe.
Although momentum stalled for the Tribe, a 15-point lead and the support of all the families gathered in Zable Stadium for the annual Family Weekend seemed it would be enough for them to close out the game. However, Elon opened the quarter with a solid 10 play drive that ended with a two-yard Hampton run for the touchdown, cutting the lead to 31-23, a one score game.
Five minutes later, a powerful hit led Imoh to fumble, and the Elon defense was right on the scene to recover on the Tribe 43 yard line. Elon took advantage of the turnover with a nine play drive that ended in redshirt freshman running back DJ Moyer forcing his way into the endzone on a one-yard touchdown run. However, not all hope was lost, as the Tribe stopped the two point conversion to maintain a two point lead.
William and Mary needed to make something happen on offense during the next possession to either increase their lead or at least run out the clock. Unfortunately, the Elon defense maintained its lockdown of the Tribe offense, as the hosts went three and out and returned possession to Elon on their own 31-yard line. Only needing a field goal to take the lead, the Phoenixes marched down the field. On back to back plays, McKay threw 27 then 24 yard completions to put Elon just 20 yards outside the end zone. Two plays later, Hampton was celebrating his third touchdown of the game after a 15 yard run, giving Elon its first lead of the game at 35-31.
The Tribe had one attempt left to salvage a late miracle, but they were only able to get halfway across the field before they had to attempt one last deep throw into the endzone, which was ruled incomplete. The final seconds ticked off the clock and the once electric atmosphere around Zable Stadium had turned into a soft hush, with shocked faces to match the astounding fourth quarter comeback they had just witnessed.
During the second half, Elon held the Tribe to only 117 yards, including 68 rushing yards. Throughout the entire game, they only rushed for 149 yards, marking a new season low.
Elon’s second half success came from their ability to convert on third downs and extending drives. While the visitors were two for 10 on third down conversions in the first half, they drastically improved to three out of four in the second.
In a postgame interview, head coach Mike London was humble and honest in his assessment of the match.
“Elon’s a good football team, and credit goes to Coach Trisciani and their staff, their players, for out-executing us,” London said. “But we [had] a lot of self-inflicting wounds.”
Despite the setback, London was optimistic about the coming weeks.
“This is the phase of football where you have to correct the things that were tough and be true to yourself,” London said. “I don’t like it tonight, but there’s a long season in front of us and a lot of things to be thankful for.”
William and Mary will need to resharpen and refocus for their upcoming game this Saturday against a struggling Stony Brook, who have yet to record their first win.