With an electrifying offense from the start and a smothering defense in the second half, William & Mary cruised to its first win over a Bowl Subdivision opponent since 2009.
The Tribe defeating Charlotte wasn’t all that much of a shocker, but the final score of 41-24 Friday night at Jerry Richardson Stadium was. W&M had 560 total yards — 304 on the ground, 256 in the air — and allowed only seven points after halftime.
“It was one of those games where you had to play with resiliency, toughness and a never-give-up attitude,” W&M coach Mike London said. “At the end of the (first) half, we kind of tailed off a little bit. But our guys came out in the second half and did a phenomenal job.
“Everyone who traveled for this game probably played because we needed them. The offense did a great job, and the defensive made some big stops and pinned them back. … When you have complementary football, then you have the opportunity to win a game like this.”
The 41 points were W&M’s most against a Bowl Subdivision opponent since 1998. The Tribe ended the game in victory formation in the red zone.
W&M averaged 8.6 yards per snap and didn’t turn the ball over. Quarterback Darius Wilson passed for 237 yards, rushed for 68 and even caught a 19-yard pass. The Tribe scored on seven of its 10 drives (not counting kneel-downs at the end of each half).
W&M’s defense gave up 379 yards, only 129 of which came in the second half. And 67 of that came on Xavier Williams’ touchdown run that briefly gave Charlotte a 24-20 lead with 2:18 remaining in the third quarter.
That touchdown run came on a third-and-21 scramble and easily could have been a gut punch to W&M’s psyche. Instead, the Tribe quickly regained the lead on Bronson Yoder’s 1-yard run on fourth-and-1. As if there was any question London would leave the offense on the field.
The decision, and a perfectly executed option pitch by Wilson to Yoder, turned the game back in W&M’s favor.
“As an offense, we felt they couldn’t stop us the entire game,” Wilson said. “We knew the only thing that could stop us was ourselves, so we just had to lock in and stay on track. And we responded well for the rest of the game.”
After Charlotte went three-and-out, Wilson found tight end Lachlan Pitts for a 65-yard touchdown pass that extended the Tribe’s lead to 34-24. Another three-and-out, and another W&M touchdown on Malachi Imoh’s 17-yard run.
“This means a lot,” Wilson said. “It just proves to us that everything we’ve been working for since the end of last season was worth it. All the extra hours we put on the field, we wanted to go out and prove to ourselves what we can do.”
Yoder led the rushing game with 120 yards on 15 carries. Imoh added 54 yards on six attempts. Donavyn Lester picked up 46 yards, 22 coming on a second-quarter touchdown.
Wilson got the start at quarterback, but Hollis Mathis also started — as a receiver. Offensive coordinator Christian Taylor seemed to have a fun night with the play-calling, which was as creative as it was unpredictable.
“Christian did a great job of mixing everything up,” London said. “We really had a balanced running and passing attack. We use a bunch of players on our team who have ball skills and different type of things. Those players are happy for their teammates.
“There’s no ego. Everybody just wants to do their part. And the offensive line, blocking and protecting, was phenomenal today.”
After Yoder’s touchdown regained the lead, the Tribe’s defense held the 49ers to 2 yards on their final three possessions. Two of W&M’s quarterback sacks — CAA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and Charlotte resident Nate Lynn had a solo and a share — came in that stretch.
Linebackers Trey Watkins and John Pius had nine tackles each. Watkins made a key stop on fourth-and-1; Pius had 1.5 sacks and knocked down a pass on third-and-3.
The teams traded field goals in the game’s first 10 minutes before William & Mary took a 10-3 lead on Wilson’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Rose. On the Tribe’s next possession, Lester’s 22-yard run ade it 17-3 with 10:22 left in the second quarter.
On its first three drives, W&M 193 yards on 14 plays — an average of 13.8 yards per.
But the 49ers, held to only a field goal in its first three possessions, evened the score on short touchdown runs by ChaVon McEachern and Wilson, the latter coming with 13 seconds left in the first half.