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CHARLOTTESVILLE – The William & Mary football team suffered its first setback of the season, as it fell at Virginia, 35-29, on Saturday afternoon.
Although W&M (1-1) trailed, 35-20, midway through the fourth quarter, it rallied back with a number of big plays and had a chance to win the contest in the waning minutes.
A 4-yard touchdown pass by junior quarterback Steve Cluley to sophomore wide receiver DeVonte Dedmon on a fourth-and-goal with 5:18 remaining cut UVA’s (1-2) lead to 35-29. After holding Virginia to a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, which featured an 8-yard sack by senior defensive tackle Tyler Claytor, Dedmon returned UVA’s punt 28 yards to give W&M starting field position near midfield with 3:01 remaining.
While the college drove to the Cavaliers’ 30-yard line, it was stopped on downs with 1:27 remaining before UVA ran out the clock.
Senior running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor set a school record with his seventh-consecutive 100-yard rushing effort (dating back to last season), as he posted 100 yards on 22 carries. Cluley completed 23-of-36 passes for 226 yards with three touchdowns, while Dedmon totaled seven catches for 80 yards with two scores.
Senior safety DeAndre Houston-Carson led the defense with a team-high nine tackles to go with an interception, a tackle for a loss and a blocked punt, which resulted in a safety midway through the fourth quarter and helped ignite the comeback bid.
W&M’s offense was outstanding in the opening half and scored on each of its first four possessions en route to trailing just 21-20 at halftime. Cluley was especially productive in the opening 30 minutes as he completed 11-of-14 passes for 128 yards with two touchdowns.
In a statistically even game, UVA outgained W&M by just two yards, 373-371.
W&M jumped out to an early 7-0 lead when Cluley connected with Dedmon on a 41-yard touchdown pass to punctuate the game’s opening drive. The Williamsburg native hauled in the catch despite a pass interference penalty called on a UVA defender. The quick, five-play, 75-yard march lasted just 2:03 and was also highlighted by a 21-yard run by Abdul-Saboor.
UVA answered with a 16-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Johns to fullback Connor Wingo-Reeves. The Cavaliers converted all four of their third-down situations on the scoring drive that lasted 9:13 – the second-longest in terms of time in Virginia history.
The Tribe reclaimed the lead, 14-7, with a 37-yard touchdown strike from Cluley to sophomore tight end Andrew Caskin on a fourth-and-3 on the first play of the second quarter. Cluley rolled right on the play and threw back across the field to Caskin who hauled in the toss and raced down the Cavaliers’ sideline.
An interception by redshirt freshman linebacker Josh Dulaney, his first career pick, at UVA’s 30-yard line halted the Cavaliers’ ensuing drive, and sophomore kicker Nick Dorka, Jr., connected on a career-long 43-yard field goal four plays later to extend the margin to 17-7 with 12:16 left in second quarter.
The Cavaliers quickly answered with a two-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 39-yard touchdown run by running back Jordan Ellis. Running back Taquan Mizzell posted a 46-yard run on the prior play.
W&M countered with a 14-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a 21-yard field goal by Dorka to give the Tribe a 20-16 lead with 5:07 remaining in the half.
UVA claimed its first lead of the game, 21-20, with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Johns to wideout Canaan Severin with1:46 left in the second quarter. A 43-yard catch by wide receiver David Eldridge helped fuel the six-play, 90-yard scoring drive.
Although the college forced a pair of turnovers in the opening half, Virginia outgained W&M, 273-224, and converted 5-of-6 third down situations.
Keanu Reuben recovered an onside kick to begin second half, but W&M was unable to pick up a first down.
UVA increased the margin to 28-20 when Mizzell caught a short screen pass from Johns and raced 80 yards down the middle of the field for a touchdown with 12:29 left in the third quarter.
Shortly thereafter Maurice Canady returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown to push UVA’s lead to 35-20 with 10:00showing in the third quarter.
W&M threatened to score early in the fourth quarter but was stopped on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. W&M’s defense took advantage of the field position however, and Houston-Carson blocked a punt in the end zone with 8:57 remaining that resulted in a safety and narrowed the gap to 35-22 to help ignite the comeback bid.
Johns finished the contest completing 17-of-23 passes for 263 yards with three touchdowns, while Mizzell totaled 202 all-purpose yards.
The Tribe will return to action when it hosts Stony Brook in its conference opener next Saturday at 7:30 p.m.