A relentless and opportunistic defense, along with one of the craziest touchdowns you’ll ever see, led William & Mary to a 24-3 win over Lafayette in Saturday night’s home opener at Zable Stadium.
The Tribe’s defense had six sacks, 11 tackles for loss, and outscored the Leopards by itself. Safety Gage Herdman and inside linebacker Quinn Osborne became the first W&M teammates since 2013 to have pick-sixes in the same game.
William & Mary (1-1) held Lafayette to 256 total yards, only 32 coming on the ground. The three points were the fewest allowed by the Tribe since 2015.
“I thought the defense played excellent tonight,” W&M coach Mike London said. “Obviously, when you get a chance to score on defense twice and get some fourth-down stops … and their quarterback was under duress most of the time. That’s the sign of a good defense.
“Very pleased with them. You like to click on all three cylinders, but sometimes one of the units or two of the units have got to see you through.”
Linebacker John Pius led the defense with seven tackles, which included two sacks. End Will Kiely had 3.5 TFLs, and tackle Nate Lynn had half a sack and four hurries. In addition to Herdman and Osborne, Tye Freeland also had an interception.
The Tribe’s offense finished with only 173 total yards, 38 coming on a touchdown pass from Hollis Mathis to Cole Blackman that should include an assist from Anthony Mague. After missing last week’s loss at Virginia, Mathis played the entire way and completed 9-of-20 passes for 96 yards.
W&M was missing four starters on offensive — center Ryan Ripley, left tackle Andrew Trainer, wide receiver Kane Everson and running back Malachi Imoh. Also not available was running back/return man Bronson Yoder.
Unlike last week at Virginia, field position was W&M’s friend. Four of the Tribe’s first six possessions started no worse than its 46-yard line. All the offense could manage was a 37-yard field goal by Ethan Chang to make it 3-0 at halftime.
After the Tribe went three-and-out on its first drive of the third quarter, Lafayette finally began moving the ball.
On second-and-3 from W&M’s 23-yard line, Leopards quarterback Rent Montie threw a pass in the flat to wide receiver Julius Young. The throw was high, and Young reached for it with his left hand. That resulted in a deflection, which floated right to Herdman, who was converging on Young for the stop.
Herdman made the pick, picked up a block from Pius at midfield, and was off for a 78-yard touchdown return.
“That was one of those plays where you just have to be in position, and being on the spot gets rewarded,” said Herdman, who has been battling injuries. “That’s a prime example right there. When I got the ball in my hands, there was no other option than scoring.
“Just one of those things. Ball comes to you, react, and do your thing.”
From having a chance to tie or even take the lead, Lafayette suddenly trailed 10-0.
“It’s a sudden change,” London said. “To make an explosive play like that, especially for a score, it’s critical.”
On its next possession, Lafayette coach John Garrett kept his offense on the field on fourth-and-5 from the Leopards 45-yard line. Montie completed a pass to K.J. Rodgers, but W&M cornerback Tate Haynes made the stop a yard short of the first down.
W&M took over and soon faced a second-and-12 from the 38-yard line. Mathis had Mague wide open at the Leopards’ 15-yard line, but his pass was underthrown. Mague came back for a diving attempt. The ball hit something — Mague’s hands or the ground? — and bounced into the air.
Blackman was in stride behind the play and caught the deflection. He scooted past stunned defenders into the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown. The replay confirmed, and the Tribe’s lead was 17-0 with seven seconds left in the third quarter.
“Hey, you know I’m in the business of touchdowns, however it gets done,” Mathis said. “Yeah, that’s probably one of the more bizarre ways that we got it done, but I’m glad we did.
“I’m glad Cole had my back. Cole was playing some heads-up football.”
“You just never know,” he said. “You can run into good plays. You can run into good things that help you.”
Although the offense scored only one touchdown, it also didn’t turn the ball over. It was the first time William & Mary played turnover-free football in each of its first two games since 2006.
COMING UP: The Tribe will venture north to play at Colgate in its final non-conference game. The Raiders fell to 0-2 Saturday with a 24-3 home loss Stony Brook.
W&M is 7-4 all-time vs. Colgate, including a 38-10 win in 2019 at Zable.