Thursday, November 30, 2023

No Comeback Magic This Time as W&M Falls at Maine, 27-16

(Courtesy W&M Athletics)
(Courtesy W&M Athletics)

ORONO (MAINE) — Trailing by 17 points at halftime Saturday afternoon, William & Mary didn’t need to go far back for a life lesson. Seven days earlier, the Tribe was down 18 at the break before coming back to beat Albany.

Of course, the likelihood of pulling off near-miracles in back-to-back weeks isn’t great. William & Mary didn’t have the magic this time, and its four-game winning streak came to an end with a 27-16 loss at Maine.

The Black Bears led 17-0 at halftime and 24-0 with 4½ minutes left in the third quarter. The Tribe scored two touchdowns in the second half and had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but an interception in the end zone with 2:30 remaining ended the comeback bid.

“We’ve been used to playing games where at the end we were on the positive side of the outcome,” W&M coach Mike London said. “This time, we were not. We did a better job that last quarter to put ourselves in a position to score and make the game closer.

“You’ve got to play four good quarters of football, and Maine played four good quarters of football. They made the plays they needed to make in order to win the game today.”

William & Mary (4-2, 2-1 CAA) rushed for 258 yards, 86 more than its per-game average. Donavyn Lester picked up 112 on 13 carries, and Bronson Yoder and Malachi Imoh each added 56 on seven attempts.

But the Tribe had three turnovers, two coming inside Maine’s 40-yard line. The Black Bears (2-4, 1-3) converted the first into a 63-yard touchdown drive and a 7-0 lead. On the third, Tribe quarterback Darius Wilson was intercepted on first-and-goal from the 2-yard line with 2:30 remaining.

The biggest factor was Maine’s dominance in ball control. The difference in time of possession was just over seven minutes (33:46 to 26:14). But the Black Bears had 83 plays from scrimmage to William & Mary’s 55.

Maine had 27 first downs, the most W&M has given up since 2019. The Black Bears were 10-of-19 on third down chances with seven of the conversions needing at least 7 yards. They were 3-of-3 on fourth downs.

“They did a good job of staying on the field when they could,” London said. “It’s fundamentally sound football. Pad the gap, disengage, get off blocks, and tackle. That’s what they did better than us in their third-down, fourth-down situation.”

The Tribe’s problems started early. On its fifth play from scrimmage, a handoff exchange from Wilson to Martin Lucas landed on the turf. Maine’s Fofie Bazzie recovered at the Black Bears’ 37-yard line, and Derek Robinson’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Brock made it 7-0 with 5:17 left in the first quarter.

After the Tribe went three-and-out on its next possession, Maine extended its lead to 10-0 on a 21-yard field goal by Jonny Messina.

Midway through the second quarter, W&M caught a break when Will Whitehurst’s punt rolled into a Maine player and was recovered by Gregory Cuffey at the Tribe 43. After three first downs, the Tribe faced fourth-and-2 from the Black Bears 14-yard line.

London kept the offense on the field. The handoff went to Lucas, who had scored on a pair of 3-yard touchdown runs last week. This time, he was stopped short of the marker.

Taking over with 3:17 left in the first half, Maine went ahead 17-0 with a 16-play, 87-yard drive. The Black Bears converted two third-and-10s, a third-and-2, and a fourth-and-5.

The Tribe had one last chance for a shot of momentum heading into the locker room. Instead, after a high snap, Ethan Chang’s 42-yard field goal attempt was wide right as the half ended.

Maine made it 24-0 with 6:13 remaining in the third quarter. William & Mary outscored the Black Bears 16-3 the rest of the way, with Wilson sneaking it in from a yard and throwing a 76-yard touchdown pass to Zach Burdick, but was unable to get it back to a one-possession game.

W&M did come close. After starting from its 14-yard line with 6:14 left, the Tribe had a first-and-goal from the 4. Burdick took a handoff and scooted around the left side for an apparent touchdown, but a holding call wiped it out.

On the next play, Maine was flagged for interference in the end zone, which gave the Tribe first-and-goal from the 2. Wilson appeared to be looking for tight end Anthony Mague in the back of the end zone when he was intercepted by Maine linebacker Adrian Otero.

“Today was tough,” London said. “I told the guys, you know how it feels to be on the other side of those last-minute games. Now we’re on the opposite side of that. It doesn’t taste very good, so the path forward is to get it corrected so we can get back on the winning side.

“We learn from it. We move on and get ready to come back home and play Towson. This is a very confident team, and we will continue to be confident. We’ll continue to get better because we’re going to need to as we go down the remaining teams that we play.”

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