By its own lofty standards, William & Mary’s offense wasn’t quite at its best in Saturday night’s home opener. But the Tribe’s defense, along with a grad transfer kicker who has been remarkably accurate so far, was more than enough to spark a 23-6 win over Wofford at Zable Stadium.
W&M allowed only 156 total yards, its fewest in eight seasons, and didn’t give up a touchdown. Inside linebacker Kevin Jarrell had 14 tackles, nine of which were solo — both career highs. Outside backer John Pius had two quarterback sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.
“I’m proud of the defense in the way they played,” Tribe coach Mike London said. “Sometimes you look at it and you feel like it should have been more. We should have scored on defense.
“But you don’t beat yourself up about it. You look at the categories in terms of total yards, rushing yards, how many times you had a hit on the quarterback, sacks, pressures, and you say, ‘Man, these guys got after them.'”
That they did. Counting the four sacks, two in each half, the D had nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage for a minus-38 yards. Wofford averaged only 3.1 yards per play and converted 1-of-13 third down chances.
Wofford’s first points came after taking over at the Tribe 29-yard line following a short punt. They gained only a yard and came away with a field goal.
“I thought we did a pretty good job defensively overall,” Jarrell said. “Last week (at Campbell), we started a little slow and it wasn’t what we want to put on film and what we expect from ourselves. So one of our things this week was trying to come out and just be who we know we are. Play fast.
“We have that hunt squad mentality that we’re never satisfied. We want to go out and make plays. Overall, we had guys playing fast, guys playing physical, and a lot of guys doing their job.”
Nobody more so than Jarrell, a grad student who was recruited as a quarterback. He made two solo stops in space on third-and-short. He sacked Wofford quarterback Bryce Corriston on third down in the fourth quarter.
“Kevin was our overall vote getter when the players voted for team captain, and that speaks well of him for the type of person he is,” London said. “You need significant leaders who are counted on and looked up to by players on the team to be an example. It’s great to see him have a very productive game.”
It was the first time W&M’s defense hadn’t allowed a touchdown since the second week of the 2021 season.
Also playing a key role in the win was Caden Bonoffski, a transfer from Davidson who is working on his M.B.A. in the Mason School of Business. He finished with field goals of 40, 42 and 30 yards. In two games this season, he is 5-of-6 on field goal attempts with his only miss coming from 50 yards last week at Campbell.
“He’s done a tremendous job of coming in, assimilating with culture, and (asking) ‘Coach, how can I help us win?'” London said. “And going out on the field and demonstrating it.
“When you look at demonstrated performance, he’s putting the ball through the uprights. Another selfless guy who wants to help us win, and I’m glad we have him on our team.”
Bonoffski, who left Davidson as the program’s fourth all-time leading scorer, found William & Mary as a natural landing spot for his fifth and final year of eligibility.
“I was familiar with the program and the school coming out of high school,” he said. “However, in terms of who they were looking to take that year, things didn’t really work out. But in the back of my mind, I always knew this was a great spot.
“Obviously, the program is in a super-good place right now. And academically, it’s very strong and similar to Davidson. It was a very easy fit and decision to come from Davidson and end up at William & Mary.”
Offensively, the Tribe began the game with a textbook drive that covered 81 yards in 10 plays, all but one of them runs. Bronson Yoder had 51 of his 88 yards on the possession and scored his third touchdown of the season to put W&M ahead 7-0 with 8:58 left in the first quarter.
The Tribe’s second touchdown was set up by one of offensive coordinator Christian Taylor’s tasty recipes. On first down from the Wofford 43, with W&M leading 10-6 late in the first half, quarterback Darius Wilson handed off to Yoder — as he had done 11 times already.
But this time, Yoder pitched back to JT Mayo, who had lined up slot left but was coming back around. He flipped it back to Wilson, who found sophomore tight end Trey McDonald wide open for a 40-yard gain — on the first catch of his career.
Two plays later, Wilson’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Mayo made it 17-6.
Asked what the play is called, London confessed he’s not certain.
“I call it, ‘What just happened?,” he said.
One of the biggest losses from last season was tight end Lachlan Pitts, who led the team in receiving yards (543) and touchdown receptions (five) as a senior. London said in August the position would likely be filled “by committee,” and that’s been the case so far.
Though no one tight end is matching what Pitts did last season, McDonald and Sean McElwain have a combined four catches for 87 yards.
“Obviously, we miss Lachlan Pitts, but at the same time, it’s the next-man-up mentality,” London said. “(Junior) Colton Turner, Trey and Sean McElwain are productive tight ends.”