Wednesday, June 12, 2024

No. 18/21 W&M awakes for 27-10 win over Stony Brook

(Courtesy W&M Athletics)

Over its previous four quarters of football, William & Mary had been outscored 35-9. Worse than that, the Tribe was in serious danger of an 0-2 start in the Colonial Athletic Association race.

With his team trailing at halftime for the first time this season, W&M coach Mike London challenged his guys to wake up. And they did with a dominant performance in the second half for a 27-10 win over Stony Brook Saturday on Long Island.

Filling in for the injured Bronson Yoder, Malachi Imoh rushed for 100 of his 128 yards and all three of his touchdowns in the second half as W&M bounced back from a loss to Elon the previous week. The Tribe’s defense pitched a shutout for the game’s final three quarters.

It was a win No. 18/21 W&M (4-1, 1-1 CAA), even with its injury issues, was favored to get. But it didn’t come easy.

“There’s no motivational speech,” London said. “There’s no appealing to this or that. It was a gut check to who we are and what we’re made of.

“And they responded in a big way. Very proud of our players and our coaches for the final outcome and being resilient.”

After scoring three points in the second half against Elon last week, the Tribe managed only a pair of Ethan Chang field goals — the second of which came from a school-record 57 yards — in its first eight possessions Saturday. With 3:16 remaining in the third quarter, W&M trailed 10-6 as it started from its 40-yard line.

On the first play, quarterback Darius Wilson completed a 19-yard pass to playmaker Caylin Newton. Four plays later, Imoh’s 10-yard touchdown put the Tribe ahead 13-10 with 55 seconds left in the third quarter.

W&M’s defense forced the Seawolves to punt, and Newton’s 37-yard return set up the Tribe’s offense at the Stony Brook 30. After a 21-yard pass from Wilson to tight end Lachlan Pitts set up first-and-goal from the 2, Imoh swept the left side to make it 20-10 with 11:50 remaining.

The offense was finally looking like what its fans had enjoyed seeing the first 3½ weeks.

“We were seeing some different things than we had before, and for me personally, it took a little longer than it should have to get adjusted,” Imoh said. “But after halftime, talking with our coaches and offensive line, we had a better idea of what they were doing.

“I was able to do the basic rules we have on our offense and read it out. We played really well from halfway through the third quarter on. We know we have to finish the game strong to win.”

After another Stony Brook punt, W&M went 54 yards on seven plays to ice the win. Imoh’s third touchdown was a 28-yard run down the left sideline with 3:01 remaining.

“What a gritty, gutsy, resilient way to come back and win it with the conditions and all that was going on,” London said. “I was so happy for these guys for the way we picked it up.

“At halftime, we were leading in almost every (statistical) category, but we weren’t leading on the scoreboard. The second half, the players did an outstanding job. And it feels good to have another road win.”

Imoh’s 128 yards weren’t a career high — he rushed for 137 yards against Elon in the abbreviated spring season of 2021 — but his 21 carries were. In fact, they were more than his combined rushing attempts this season before Saturday.

Imoh averaged 2.8 yards on his 10 carries in the first half. He averaged 9.1 yards on his 11 attempts the rest of the way.

W&M has plenty of depth at the running back position, and it’s been needed. Five games into the season, Yoder, Imoh, Donavyn Lester and Martin Lucas each has missed at least one game.

“We’ve been preparing all season,” Imoh said. “In the running back room, we’ve all been working together when we’re healthy and if one of us needs to step up, we’re all capable of doing that. We had a good week of practice and I knew if the team needed me to do that, I would do it.”

Of note: Chang’s 57-yard field goal to conclude the first half not only broke the school record, it did so by 3 full yards. Kris Hooper held the previous mark of 54 yards set at Albany in 2019. … Back in the lineup Saturday were cornerbacks Ryan Poole and Jalen Jones. Pool, who had missed the previous three games, had six tackles (four solo) and a TFL. Jones, who had missed the previous game against Elon, had a tackle. … Of Yoder, who is averaging 104 rushing yards a game with four touchdowns, London said “hopefully we’ll have him back this week coming up.”

Next up: W&M will host Delaware Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Blue Hens (5-0, 3-0 CAA) defeated Towson 24-10 Saturday.

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