William & Mary coach Mike London often refers to his defense’s play as “bend but don’t break.” That’s exactly what the Tribe did in a tight first half against Lafayette Saturday afternoon.
But for the rest of the way, “bend but don’t break” became “don’t budge.” W&M forced three-and-outs on five of the Leopards’ first six possessions after halftime and ran away with a 34-7 win in Easton, Pa.
The Tribe (3-0) had six quarterback sacks, 3.5 by outside linebacker John Pius, and limited Lafayette to 48 total yards in the second half. That more than complemented an offense that despite missing two of its best running backs rushed for 289 yards and totaled 483.
“What a tough, hard-fought game,” London said. “It’s hard to win football games, as we all know, on the road. … We left some guys home, and hopefully we’ll get them back next week. Different guys stepped up.”
None more so than Martin Lucas, who is technically the team’s fourth-string running back. Coming into Saturday, he had 16 career rushing yards. But with Donavyn Lester and Malachi Imoh back in Williamsburg, Lucas rushed for 91 yards on 13 carries.
No one was less surprised than Bronson Yoder, the Tribe’s rushing leader who finished with 134 yards and three touchdowns on 17 attempts.
“Martin hasn’t had to carry the ball much at all this year, and this shows you he’s just as capable as any of us,” Yoder said. “He’s a big, physical dude. We have him blocking most of the time, but he’s just as athletic to carry the rock. Not surprising at all.”
W&M, which came in fifth nationally in rushing offense, finished slightly above its average with 289 yards on 42 attempts. Quarterback Darius Wilson added 38 on five carries and threw for 194 on 16-of-23 passing.
And for the first time since 2015, its last playoff season, William & Mary scored at least 34 points in three consecutive games.
Defensively, the Tribe came in missing safety Tye Freeland and cornerback Ryan Poole for the second consecutive week. Jalen Jones, who had three interceptions in last week’s win over Campbell, started for the second straight week but went down early.
On its first possession of the game, Lafayette’s hurry-up offense went 91 yards in six plays — taking just 136 seconds off the clock — to tie the game 7-7. The Leopards finished the first half with 192 total yards, 145 in the air, but that was their only touchdown.
Bend but don’t break.
In the second half, the Tribe’s defense was dominant. On its first six possessions, Lafayette had minus-11 yards on 19 snaps. Only on their final drive, with both teams playing mostly reserves, did the Leopards finally move the sticks before Marcus Barnes’ interception.
Pius, who had eight tackles and four TFLs, said the difference was changing Lafayette’s pace.
“We were able to stop their hurry-up tempo,” Pius said. “They were trying to hurry up on us, and I think that’s what caught us off-guard in the first half.”
London credits defensive coordinator Vincent Brown and his coaches with making simple adjustments.
“Without getting into the semantics a whole lot, we made the coverages easier for the guys who were there,” he said. “And we did some things that just let our rushers rush. Sometimes, it’s not as much the scheme as it is let’s call this defense and let them go.”
As the defense allowed nothing, the Tribe’s offense put the game away. Not counting kneel-downs, W&M scored on six of its first nine possessions. Yoder’s career-high third touchdown gave W&M a four-possession lead with 13:07 remaining.
NOTES: For the third consecutive game, the Tribe gained at least 32 yards on its first play from scrimmage. This time it was a 35-yard run by Wilson … W&M has not given up a point in the fourth quarter this season. Combined, the Tribe has outscored the opposition 62-10 in the first and fourth quarter … Wilson’s second-quarter interception was the offense’s first turnover this season …Caylin Newton, a transfer from Auburn who was London’s starting quarterback for two seasons at Howard, scored his first touchdown at W&M on a 24-yard reception 3½ minutes into the game … He finished with four catches for 56 yards … Sophomore Mike Malone had his first career sack Saturday.
NEXT UP: Finishing the non-conference portion of its schedule, William & Mary will begin CAA play at home against Elon on Saturday. The Phoenix (2-1) defeated Gardner-Webb 30-24 Saturday.