BOZEMAMN, Mont. — One of William & Mary’s finest seasons came to an end on a frigid night more than 2,000 miles away from home.
No. 4 Montana State, the national runner-up last season, clinched a spot in the FCS semifinals with a 55-7 win over the Tribe Friday in Bozeman, Mont. The Bobcats (12-1) broke open an early defensive struggle by scoring on eight consecutive drives with six touchdowns and two field goals.
No. 5 W&M finished the season with an 11-2 record, which by percentage (.846) is the second-best in program history. A school-record 10 wins came during the regular season. The Tribe advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 2009.
“To be in the FCS playoffs and play a caliber of team like this, this is the kind of rarified air we want to be in,” W&M coach Mike London said. “We want to be a team like Montana State that year in and year out is in the playoffs and competing for a championship.
“I believe we can do that, but we’ve got a ways to go. I love our team and the accomplishments of what occurred this year. We’ve got some work to do to keep it consistent and sustain it.”
Bronson Yoder rushed for 122 yards on 26 carries and scored the Tribe’s only touchdown, which came with 3:11 remaining in the game. Linebackers Kevin Jarrell and Brayden Staib led the defense with seven tackles apiece.
The Bobcats finished with 473 yards and averaged 8.9 per snap. In addition to points, W&M finished with season lows in rushing (135 yards), passing (62 yards) and total offense (197 yards).
When the game kicked off at 8:15 MT, the temperature was 20 degrees. Worse, the field was frozen in spots, which made footing an issue. The University of Montana loaned W&M its heated benches, but that did nothing for the playing surface.
“Perhaps some, but control the controllables,” London said when asked if the conditions played a factor. “That’s what happens between the white lines. I’m not going to sit here and say that was the issue. Obviously, we have to deal with whatever the circumstances are.
“The weather and time change, we tried to adapt as much as we could. But we didn’t do a good job, or good enough. That’s a good football team that we played, and I wish them well the rest of the way.”
Each team went three-and-out on its first two possessions. But after William & Mary made it three in three, the Bobcats got their high-powered attack going.
Quarterback Tommy Mellott’s 22-yard touchdown run capped a four-play, 83-yard drive and gave MSU a 7-0 lead with 3:40 left in the first quarter. On the Bobcats’ next possession, Isaiah Ifanse’s 68-yard touchdown made it 14-0.
“You talk about explosive plays, they had a few,” London said. “When you get those explosive plays, long passes and long runs, it kind of changes the trajectory of the game. They got up on us and we couldn’t quite get it going as much as we needed to in our running game, which has been dominant for us.”
The Tribe didn’t pick up a first down until 12:14 remained in the second quarter, at which point Montana State led 17-0. The Bobcats scored on its final five possessions of the first half and took a 27-0 lead at the break.
Before Friday night, W&M’s biggest deficit was 14 points.
At halftime, Montana State had 289 total yards to William & Mary’s 59. Any hopes of a comeback took an early hit when the Bobcats went ahead 34-0 20 seconds into the third quarter.
“In a mark of a good football team, they stayed consistent in everything they did throughout the game,” London said.
NOTES: The Tribe set three team rushing records this season: yards (3,455), average yards per game (265.7) and average yards per carry (5.9). … W&M ended the season averaging 448.8 total yards a game, fourth on the all-time list. …Yoder finished the year with 1,255 yards, the eight-best season by a Tribe back in program history … His 13 rushing touchdowns are tied for fifth.