Five minutes into the third quarter Saturday afternoon, William & Mary owned a three-possession lead against the nation’s sixth-ranked team. Nobody expected it to be that easy, and it wouldn’t be. Things did get a little tense.
Yet the Tribe blanked Delaware in the fourth quarter and held on, ever so tightly, for a 27-21 win at Zable Stadium. Bronson Yoder rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown, Donavyn Lester added 77 playing for the first time in four weeks, and the Tribe’s defense came up huge when it had to.
The No. 16/17 Tribe (5-1, 2-1 CAA) defeated a top-10 team for the second consecutive season and stayed closer to the top of the conference standings. Not that head coach Mike London was necessarily thinking in those terms.
“You guys will talk about how big the win is,” he said. “I don’t know any of that stuff, but I do know that was a good football team and we played really well tonight…It was a very physical game and back-and-forth.
“Our players had a never-quit, never die-attitude. It was kind of indicative how we’ve been able to win some games. … So many good things happened during the course of the game.”
Statistically, the first half couldn’t have been more one-sided. W&M dominated total yards (282-75), first downs (15-4) and time of possession (21:01-8:59). Blue Hens quarterback Nolan Henderson, who came in completing 67% of his passes with 16 touchdowns, was 4-of-11 for 30 yards and was sacked twice.
“In the first half, the legs were fresh and we felt good out there,” cornerback Ryan Poole said. “I remember walking out there for three plays and then walking back off. It felt good. It’s always good when it’s three-and-outs.”
The Tribe punted on its first possession of the third quarter, but Delaware’s Zane Lewis fumbled after being drilled by Caylin Newton and JT Mayo recovered at the Blue Hens’ 23-yard line. That set up Darius Wilson’s 1-yard run, which made it 24-7 with 10:11 left in the third.
The Blue Hens (5-1, 3-1) finally awoke by scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions of the third quarter, covering a combined 140 yards and using just over five minutes. Going into the fourth quarter, the Tribe’s lead was 24-21.
Then came the game’s craziest sequence. Sniffing the red zone again, Delaware appeared to take its first lead on a 33-yard run by Marcus Yarns. Yet a flag for an offensive face mask, of all things, nullified it.
Henderson scrambled for 23 yards on the next play to set up a first down at the W&M 13-yard line. But three plays later, a shotgun snap from center was low and Henderson inadvertently kicked it forward. W&M’s Momen Zahid recovered with 10:44 left in the game.
“We talk about sudden changes, and they were in the red zone,” London said. “It was a scrum down at the bottom, and that’s where you’ve got to be physical. For Momen to come up with it was a critical factor because it stopped their drive and allowed us to take some time off the clock.”
W&M moved the chains three times and lined up for a 49-yard field goal try by Ethan Chang, who was good from 57 last week at Stony Brook. But his kick was blocked by Justis Henley.
Delaware took over with 4:55 remaining but was unable to convert a fourth-and-6 from its 43 as Ethan Yip broke up a pass. The Tribe doubled its lead with Chang’s 41-yard field goal with 1:45 remaining.
Needing a touchdown, Delaware got as close as the Tribe’s 25-yard line. But on the final play, rather than go for a jump ball in the end zone, the Blue Hens tried a series of laterals. It finally ended when the Tribe’s Nate Lynn came up with the ball.
“At the very end, I thought they might have went Hail Mary,” London said. “It got kind of dicey there for a moment, but we practice that all the time.”
In addition to having Yoder and Lester back in the lineup, William & Mary also had quarterback Hollis Mathis and safety Tye Freeland for the first time multiple. Freeland had five tackles, two of them solo, along with a sack and a pass break-up.
Off to its best six-game start since 2010, the Tribe will have an off week before playing at Towson on Oct. 22.
“What a great time for the bye week to come so we can take care of ourselves, develop some younger players that will probably have to play for us as we go down the second half of the season and to come off a positive experience like tonight’s,” London said. “It was really great.”