No. 4 William and Mary football overcomes Wofford in first home game of the year

RYAN GOODMAN // THE FLAT HAT William and Mary football defeated Wofford 23-6 on Saturday night's home opener, improving the Tribe's record to 2-0 on Sept. 9 at Zable Stadium in Williamsburg, Va.

Saturday, Sept. 9, No. 4 William and Mary football (2-0, 1-0 CAA) defeated Wofford (0-2) 23-6 in its home opener at Zable Stadium in Williamsburg, Va.

Following the team’s hard-fought 34-24 away win against Coastal Athletic Association foe, Campbell, on Aug. 31, head coach Mike London emphasized the anticipation of playing in front of the home crowd for the first time this season.

“The team’s first home game opportunity; our ticket sales, the students that come to support, our local community, family, friends and football alumni has been outstanding,” London said. “To watch the atmosphere and interest continue to grow, it’s been something that our players feed off of.”

Coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history last year, William and Mary has high expectations for the first half of the fall. With 15 starters from the 2022-2023 roster returning, experience and leadership are the backbone of this Tribe team’s identity.

Wofford entered Saturday night’s game with a loss against FBS opponent Pittsburgh, but the Tribe ensured proper preparation for the potential challenges the Terriers and head coach Shawn Watson could present.

“Coach Watson has been an outstanding football coach all the years he’s been doing this,” London said. “They have a team that will spread you out, attack you vertically and horizontally. They just play good football. These kids are hungry, but our guys are hungry, too.”

Saturday night’s matchup marked just the third meeting between William and Mary and Wofford, with both previous games played in Williamsburg. In the teams’ first matchup in 1930, William and Mary shut out the Terriers 19-0, and the Tribe beat Wofford 30-14 during the homecoming game in 1988.

Much like the previous two matchups, the Tribe’s offense found success early, putting points on the board on the opening drive. After a 19-yard kickoff return by junior wide receiver JT Mayo, the team looked to establish its ground game early. Primarily feeding the ball to senior running back Bronson Yoder, the Tribe picked up two large gains and advanced near midfield.

Building on momentum from Yoder’s gains, junior quarterback Darius Wilson rushed for an eight-yard gain before returning to Yoder’s groundwork. After an offsides penalty against Wofford and rushes from Wilson and junior running back Malachi Imoh, Wilson completed his first pass of the game to junior slash Hollis Mathis for a five-yard gain.

Mathis’ unique position as a slash — usually a quarterback that may not start, who can play multiple offensive positions — enables Tribe offensive coordinator Christian Taylor to vary his playbook, utilizing Mathis in different ways that diversifies the playbook.

Mathis’ reception advanced the Tribe to the Wofford 17-yard line. William and Mary went back to Yoder and the run game. After two carries, Yoder scored a touchdown from the two-yard line, putting the home team on the board early.

The Tribe drove the ball 81 yards in 10 plays, only one of which being a pass play. Yoder recorded 51 of his 88 total rushing yards of the night and scored his third touchdown of the season. With eight minutes, 58 seconds left in the first quarter, the Tribe were up 7-0.

RYAN GOODMAN // THE FLAT HAT Senior running back Bronson Yoder impacted the game heavily accounting for a large portion of rushing yardage and scoring. Yoder represents one of the Tribe’s most important offensive pieces and locker room leaders.

On Wofford’s opening drive, the Terriers’ found stiff resistance from the Tribe defense, and the visiting team went three-and-out.

After getting the ball back, the Tribe failed to spark another drive into Wofford territory. Following a sack on Wilson from Wofford junior inside linebacker Eli Purcell, the Tribe punted back to the Terriers.

Later in the quarter, Wofford capitalized off a short kick from Tribe senior punter Will Whitehurst with a field goal from sophomore kicker Bridger Jones. William and Mary still led 7-3 with four minutes left in the first quarter.

Although the Tribe’s third drive started with a 29-yard kickoff return from Mayo and a 45-yard rush by Imoh, Wofford held the William and Mary offense short of field goal range, forcing the home team to punt the ball in a fourth and 16 situation at the Wofford 32-yard line.

After another Wofford three-and-out, William and Mary managed to tack on more points with a 40-yard senior kicker Caden Bonoffski field goal. Set up by multiple runs from Yoder and Wilson, the Tribe continued to emphasize the importance of maintaining the ground game in its offensive strategy. Following the field goal, William and Mary led 10-3 with 11 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in the first half.

Wofford responded with its own field goal, driving down the field with a combination of runs and pass completions. The over six minute drive ultimately resulted in a Jones 29-yard field goal, cutting William and Mary’s lead to 10-6 with five minutes, four seconds left in the second quarter.

The Tribe’s next drive showcased the brilliance of Taylor’s offensive playbook. Following consecutive pass completions to Mayo and Yoder, the Tribe was poised to put more points on the board ahead of the halftime break. On first down at the Wofford 43-yard line, Wilson handed the ball off to Yoder in what appeared to be a run play. However, Yoder pitched the ball to Mayo, who was lined up in the slot. He proceeded to flip the ball back to Wilson, who connected on a 40-yard completion to sophomore tight end Trey McDonald for the first catch of his career.

Two plays later, Wilson completed a pass to Mayo for a two-yard touchdown, putting William and Mary up 17-6 with under three minutes left in the half.

Carrying the momentum of its recent score, the Tribe defense found success against the stagnant Wofford offense, forcing the Terriers to once again go three-and-out. Wofford punted the ball out-of-bounds at the William and Mary 40-yard line with a minute and a half remaining, leaving the door open for the Tribe to score once more before the break.

Starting the drive with a 15 yard Wofford penalty, the Tribe advanced to the Wofford 45-yard line. After passes to junior wide receiver DreSean Kendrick, Mayo and Imoh, Bonoffski knocked down a 42-yard field goal, leaving just two seconds on the clock and extended the Tribe lead to 14 points.

Entering the second half of play, the contest shifted to a more defensively heavy game as both offenses came to a standstill. Wofford’s opening drive resulted in a three-and-out. William and Mary’s first drive ended with a turnover on downs after gambling on a fourth and four situation at the Wofford 16-yard line.

This offensive dry spell continued for three more consecutive drives from each team. Both sides found difficulty passing and running the ball, punting the rock away on all three drives.

RYAN GOODMAN // THE FLAT HAT Despite some offensive stagnation, William and Mary found much success on defense, not allowing a single touchdown and only allowing 156-total yards – the fewest allowed in one game in the team’s last eight seasons.

In the early portion of the fourth quarter, the Tribe offense finally came back to life. After strong runs from both Imoh and Yoder, Wilson turned to the passing game and found redshirt freshman tight end Sean McElwain open for a 21-yard gain. On first and 10 at the Wofford 30-yard line, Wilson went back to the air to record a 16-yard completion to Mayo, putting the Tribe at the Wofford 14-yard line.

Following a short rush by Yoder and incomplete pass attempts to Mathis and Mayo, the Tribe turned to Bonoffski to convert a 30-yard field goal. With the made kick, William and Mary led Wofford 23-6 under seven minutes remaining in the game.

Wofford failed to respond on the next drive, again going three-and-out after taking a sack on third and seven at its own 36-yard line. Punting the ball away, the Tribe looked to run down the clock by handing the ball to Imoh and sophomore running back Martin Lucas. With less than two and a half minutes remaining in the game, the Tribe punted back to Wofford.

With all but the win secured for William and Mary, Wofford went to the ground game for the rest of regulation.

Although the offense was not prolific for the entirety of the game, the Tribe’s defense was steadfast, not giving up a single touchdown and only allowing 156-total yards – the fewest allowed in one game in the team’s last eight seasons.

Particular standouts on defense were senior inside linebacker Kevin Jarrell, who recorded a career-high 14 tackles, and junior outside linebacker John Pius, who recorded two sacks and two and a half tackles for loss.

Including the four sacks, the Tribe defense recorded nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage for 38-yards of losses. Wofford averaged only 3.1 yards per play, converting one of 13 third down chances.

“I’m proud of the defense in the way they played,” London said. “Sometimes you look at it and you feel like it should have been more, but you don’t beat yourself up about it. You look at the categories in terms of total yards, rushing yards, how many times you had a hit on the quarter, sacks, pressures, and you say, ‘Man, these guys got after them.’”

This is the first instance William and Mary’s defense had not allowed a touchdown since the beginning of the 2021 season.

Another standout performer was Bonoffski, who finished the game three for three on field goal attempts from 40, 42 and 30 yards out. This season marks Bonoffski’s first season with the program, after transferring from Davidson to play for the Tribe in his fifth and final year of eligibility. Bonoffski has been consistent and accurate so far this season, converting five of six field goal attempts in the first two games. Following his performance against Wofford, Bonoffski was honored as CAA Football Special Teams Player of the Week.

William and Mary will now face Charleston Southern (1-1) on Saturday, Sept. 16 at Buccaneer Field in Charleston, S.C.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here