Football scores 34 points in dominant first half against Garder-Webb, advances to FCS quarterfinals for first time since 2009

Sophomore quarterback Darius Wilson runs upfield during the Tribe’s 54-14 victory over Gardner-Webb on Saturday, Dec. 3. JUSTIN SHERLOCK // THE FLAT HAT

Saturday, Dec. 3, William and Mary Football (11-1, 7-1 CAA) defeated Gardner-Webb (7-6, 5-0 Big South) 54-14 at Zable Stadium to advance to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2009.

In their first FCS playoff appearance in seven years, no. 5 William and Mary was well rested following an opening round bye.

The Tribe set several school postseason records, including points, total yards (606), rushing yards (302), and forced turnovers (6).

“As you start moving forward in the playoffs you have got to be at your best. And we were at our best today,” head coach Mike London said after the game.

The Tribe won the coin toss and elected to receive the ball. On William and Mary’s first offensive play of the game, sophomore quarterback Darius Wilson completed a pass up the right side to senior wide receiver Caylin Newton for a 25-yard completion.

Once across midfield, the Tribe relied on their rungame to move into the redzone. Facing a fourth and one on the 19-yard line, London decided to keep his offense on the field. Wilson found Newton open on the left side of the field to keep the opening drive alive.

Then, Wilson rolled out right and rushed for another first down up to the Gardner-Webb three-yard line. On the next play, senior running back Bronson Yoder rushed right for the touchdown. A successful extra point conversion from sophomore Ethan Chang gave the Tribe a 7-0 lead to start the game. The opening drive score marks their eighth in 12 games this year.

The Tribe’s defense came out strong, forcing the visiting offense to go three-and-out on their opening possession.

On the Tribe’s next drive, Wilson found senior running back Donavyn Lester open for a 30-yard pass. However, the team struggled to build off of the opening play and punted to Gardner-Webb.

Gardner-Webb began building momentum on their next offensive drive. On first and 15 from their own 48-yard line, redshirt senior quarterback Bailey Fisher passed to graduate student wide receiver Cutrell Haywood, who fumbled the ball. Redshirt freshman cornerback Jalen Jones forced the fumble, which junior linebacker Brayden Staib recovered.

William and Mary began their third drive of the quarter with a 14-yard rush to the right from Yoder. Several plays later, the Tribe faced a third and 12 from the edge of field goal range. Wilson found sophomore wide receiver JT Mayo deep downfield for a 34-yard touchdown pass to grow the team’s lead.

On the third play of Gardner-Webb’s next drive, senior Ryan Poole intercepted Fisher’s pass near midfield. Wilson passed up the right sideline to Mayo for a 43-yard touchdown on the next play. Another successful extra point conversion put the Tribe up 21-0 less than 20 minutes into the game.

With their backs up against the wall, Gardner-Webb began driving. On the first play of the drive, freshman running back Jayden Brown rushed left for a 16-yard first down run. Two plays later, senior running back Narii Gaither rushed up the middle for 32 yards to reach field goal range. After reaching the redzone, Fisher tried to scramble right. Junior defensive lineman Nate Lynn forced a fumble on the play and senior linebacker Trey Watkins recovered the rock. After reviewing the play, the officials upheld the original call.

With nine and a half minutes remaining in the first half, the Tribe needed less than two minutes to score another touchdown. On the third play of the drive, Lester rushed right for a 69-yard touchdown run.

Gardner-Webb’s offensive struggles continued on the next drive when the Tribe forced a three-and-out.

Wilson began the ensuing Tribe drive with another pass to Newton for the first down. The home team managed one more first down before Gardner-Webb finally stopped their red hot offense. Chang ran out on the field to kick a successful 49-yard field goal, bringing the William and Mary lead up to 31-0.

After another three-and-out for Gardner-Webb, the Tribe began driving again when Wilson rushed for 12 yards and 17 yards on back to back plays. Two plays later, Yoder rushed left but coughed up the rock. Gardner-Webb recovered the ball, giving their defense a chance to rest.

However, their break did not last long, as the well-rested Tribe defense forced another turnover. On third and 13, redshirt freshman quarterback Matthew Caldwell threw an interception to senior defensive back Tye Freeland, setting up the Tribe with good field position and one more scoring chance before the break.

On third and two from the Gardner-Webb 32-yard line, Wilson passed deep right to redshirt freshman Martin Lucas for a 20-yard completion. The Tribe ran out of time and Chang converted a 27-yard field goal to set the Tribe up with a 34-0 lead heading into the locker room.

Coming out of the locker room, Gardner-Webb had nothing to lose. Early on their first drive of the second half, Caldwell completed back-to-back passes for 15 yards and 32 yards to reach field goal range. On the next play, Gaither rushed for 14 yards up the middle. Then, a facemask call against Gardner-Webb pushed them back. Facing a third and long Caldwell found redshirt freshman wide receiver Caleb Borders open for a 17-yard touchdown pass.

William and Mary wasted no time responding. The Tribe relied on their run game to move the ball across midfield. On third and seven, WIlson completed a pass deep left to sophomore wide receiver DreSean Kendrick for 34 yards. Then, Yoder rushed right on first and 10 for a 12-yard touchdown. The Tribe scored 41 points just over 40 minutes into the game.

Gardner-Webb struggled in early downs on their next possession, but converted two third and long attempts to move near midfield. On the next third and 10, Caldwell threw an interception to senior defensive back Malcolm Spencer.

The Tribe would not let up as the game continued. On second and seven, Wilson rushed left for a 29-yard gain. Then, Lucas rushed for another 17-yard gain. Once in the red zone, the Tribe faced a fourth and one. The Tribe Gardner-Webb offsides, setting up the home team with a first and goal.

On third down, Wilson found sophomore wide receiver Tyler Rose open for another Tribe touchdown. Chang missed the extra point, but the Tribe still boasted a 40 point lead, their eventual margin of victory.

Gardner-Webb began driving on their next possession. After the conclusion of the third quarter, the visiting squad lost their momentum. The team committed a false start penalty on the first play of the fourth quarter. On second and 15, freshman quarterback Xavion Brower threw an interception to Freeland.

With the game locked up, William and Mary benched many of their starters to protect against injury and fatigue. The Tribe rushed the ball on the first four plays of their next possession. Freshman quarterback Tyler Hughes passed to junior wide receiver Tyler Oedekoven for a first down. Several plays later, Hughes completed another pass to freshman tight end Sean McElwain for the 48-yard score.

“We had a chance at the end to let a lot of guys play,” London said.

The Tribe again stopped the Gardner-Webb offense short of midfield, forcing the punt team to come back in. On the return, Oedekoven muffed the punt, but sophomore inside linebacker Alex Washington recovered the ball on the Tribe’s own 13-yard line.

Gardner-Webb forced a three-and-out, bringing their offense back on field with less than six minutes remaining in the contest. The visitors managed to drive downfield and score their second touchdown of the game.

The Tribe’s explosive offense was evenly balanced. The team finished with 306 rushing yards and 302 passing yards, as well as three rushing touchdowns and four passing touchdowns. The defense tallied four interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Wilson finished the game with 240 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. Wilson also led the team with 89 rushing yards on just eight attempts.

Ten William and Mary players recorded a reception, but no player caught more than three passes. Newton and Kendrick each secured three passes, but Mayo led the team with 77 receiving yards on two receptions. He scored on both plays.

Lester and Yoder rushed for 87 and 72 yards, respectively.

The Tribe will travel to play no. 4 Montana State on Friday, Dec. 9 at 10:15 p.m.


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