Wednesday, October 4, 2023

No. 14 Tribe Football Unable to Close Out This Time in 35-31 Home Loss to Elon

(Courtesy William & Mary)

Through the first three weeks of the season, the fourth quarter had been William & Mary’s time. Against Charlotte, Campbell and Lafayette, the No. 14 Tribe pitched a shutout in those final 15 minutes to put away blowout wins.

Then Elon came along and flipped the switch.

Trailing by 18 points at halftime, the Phoenix controlled the rest of the way and stunned the Zable Stadium crowd with a 35-31 win Saturday afternoon. Jalen Hampton’s 15-yard run with 1:07 gave Elon its first lead, and the Tribe was unable to pull off a late miracle.

All the things William & Mary (3-1, 0-1) did so well in its first three games — run with authority, protect the ball, close with dominance — went AWOL in its Colonial Athletic Association opener. The Tribe was held to a season-low 149 rushing yards, had four turnovers and was outscored 19-0 in the fourth quarter.

“In the first half, I thought we did a pretty good job,” said Tribe coach Mike London, whose team led 28-10 at the break. “We did a poor job in the second half of executing the things we had been pretty good at doing. We’ve got to do much better than that.

“Elon’s a good football team, and credit goes to Coach (Tony) Trisciani and their staff, their players, for out-executing us. But we (had) a lot of self-inflicting wounds.”

Through its first three games, W&M had turned the ball over only twice — an interception on offense and a fumble on special teams. Saturday, the Tribe had four turnovers, including a couple of killer fumbles in the second half.

The first came with W&M leading 28-10 midway through the third quarter. Scrambling for yardage, quarterback Darius Wilson lost the ball and the Phoenix recovered at the Tribe 17-yard line.

On the third play of the possession, Elon quarterback Matthew McKay threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Bryson Daughtry to make it 28-16 (the PAT failed).

In the fourth quarter, after the Phoenix had cut W&M’s lead to 31-23, Malachi Imoh was stripped of the ball at the Tribe’s 43-yard line. That led to DJ Moyer’s 1-yard touchdown run with 4:43 remaining, which made it 31-29 after W&M stopped the 2-point conversion try.

“They were getting after us, second man stripping and pulling the ball out,” London said. “We do ball security drills, ball disruption drills, every practice. … They did a good job of hunting the football. We didn’t do a good enough job of hanging on to it.”

Still, W&M still had a chance to pull out the win. Instead, after Moyer’s touchdown made it a two-point game, the Tribe went three-and-out. Elon took over at its 31-yard line with 3:33 remaining and needing only a field goal for the lead.

The Phoenix had third-and-11 from its 30, but McKay threw back-to-back completions of 27 and 24 yards to move Elon to the W&M 19. That set up Hampton’s 15-yard touchdown run on third-and-6.

With one last chance, the Tribe got as far as its 45-yard line. With time for one last play, Wilson’s “Hail Mary” fell incomplete just outside the end zone.

In the first half, the Tribe had 284 total yards and scored touchdowns on four of its six possessions. After that, W&M added 117 yards and managed only a field goal in six possessions. The Tribe was held to 68 rushing yards and five first downs in the second half

“We were able to run the ball early with some authority and then they started doing some different things,” London said. “Again, they did a good job and they executed. And we didn’t.”

Another major factor was Elon’s success on third downs. After converting 2-of-10 in the first half, the Phoenix was 3-of-4 in the second — including 2-of-2 on its game-winning drive.

All W&M can do now is refocus and get ready for next Saturday’s game at Stony Brook. The Seawolves (0-3, 0-2) lost 51-7 Saturday at Richmond.

“This is the phase of football where you have to correct the things that were tough and be true to yourself,” London said. “I don’t like it tonight, but there’s a long season in front of us and a lot of things to be thankful for.”

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