Thanks to a revived offense and troublemaking defense, William & Mary pulled off a comeback for the ages on a damp Homecoming Saturday.
Trailing by 18 points at halftime, the Tribe flipped the script for a 31-24 win over Albany at Zable Stadium. After playing its worst first half of the season, W&M dominated coming out of locker room and outscored the Great Danes 28-3 the rest of the way.
The last time William & Mary (4-1, 2-0 CAA) overcame a bigger halftime deficit was in 2005. This one came on head coach Mike London’s 61st birthday.
“They brought a cake into the locker room, and I ate it head first,” said London, who had icing on his head during the postgame interview. “It was a great birthday celebration and a great win. What a football game to be a part of.
“To watch players and coaches who had that never-quit attitude, to watch it unfold to where we responded defensively and offensively … it was amazing. Amazing to see it come down to the very end and be on the positive side.”
Things looked pretty grim at halftime. Albany’s 21-3 lead was, in large part, a product of doubling the Tribe in possession time. The Great Danes had 250 total yards, 115 on the legs of running back Karl Mofor, and kept their drives alive by converting 8-of-10 third down chances.
It appeared the Tribe might escape with only a 14-3 deficit at the break. Instead, a late fumble set up Albany’s third touchdown — a 27-yard run by Mofor — with 44 seconds left.
London said he gave no passionate speeches at halftime.
“It wasn’t as much ‘What are we doing?'” London said. “It was ‘Listen, we’ve got to settle down and do what we do best and play football.'”
Defensive end Nate Lynn, who had two sacks and two forced fumbles, said the message was clear.
“Coach London lit a fire,” he said. “Everybody was refocused and repurposed coming out of halftime and ready to dominate.”
Receiving the second half kickoff, the Tribe wasted no time digging out of that hole. A penalty on the return backed up the starting point to the 13-yard line. But on maybe its biggest drive of the season so far, W&M went 87 yards in 12 plays.
There was only one third down, which W&M converted with a 15-yard pass from Darius Wilson to wideout Zach Burdick. On second-and-goal from the 3-yard line, true freshman Martin Lucas burst into the end zone to make it 21-10 with 9:23 left in the third quarter.
To state the obvious, the Tribe had to have it.
“That was extremely important, and that’s what led us to the comeback,” said Wilson, who completed 14-of-19 passes and accounted for 178 yards. “When you start fast, the momentum just carries.
“You saw how slow we started in the first half. We got a fast start in the second half and carried it all the way to the end.”
After the touchdown, it became just as important for the defense to force a three-and-out — which it did. Then, with Albany’s punter standing at his 5-yard line, the snap sailed over his head. The ball rolled into the end zone and was recovered by the Tribe’s Alex Washington.
Less than midway the third quarter, the Tribe already had shaved 14 points off the margin.
London the rolled the dice with an onside kick, and JT Mayo recovered. That led to a first-and-goal from the 8-yard line, but the drive ended with a missed field goal.
It turned out to be a momentary buzzkill. Lynn forced a fumble, and linebacker John Pius recovered at the Albany 10-yard line. Wilson’s 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lachlan Pitts gave William & Mary its first lead, 24-21, five seconds into the fourth quarter.
“We understand that momentum is everything, especially knowing it was a home game and getting the crowd behind us,” Lynn said. “We know we can make plays. We’ve just got to make them. Once we got the ball rolling, it just kept rolling.”
After the defense forced another punt, the offense went 75 yards on eight plays. Lewis’ second touchdown extended the Tribe’s lead to 31-21 with 8 minutes left.
Albany wasn’t about to fold. A 25-yard field goal by Dylan Burns made it a one-possession game with 4:58 remaining. The Great Danes got the ball back with 3:08 left and no time outs, and they nearly forced overtime.
Albany’s final snap came at the W&M 8-yard line. True freshman Ethan Yip broke up a pass in the corner of the end zone.
After doing next to nothing in the first half, the Tribe had 234 total yards, 161 coming on the ground, in the second. A huge boost was freshman back Malachi Imoh, who in his first game this season rushed for 55 yards on five carries.
“Our mindset changed,” Wilson said. “We came out in the first half really sluggish. We didn’t perform to our best. I didn’t perform to my best.
“In the second half, we came out with a different tenacity. We ran the ball really well, which let us throw the ball even better.”
The defense was just as charged. After giving up 250 yards in the first half, the Tribe put Albany (0-5, 0-3) in the red for the third quarter at minus-22.
“We made way too many mistakes in the first half,” Lynn said. “We understood that. We felt like if we got those corrected and got back on track, we’d play like the William & Mary we were supposed to be.”
NOTES: William & Mary is 2-0 in the CAA for the first time since 2004. … The only larger deficits the Tribe has overcome since 1980 were both 21 points — Delaware in 2004 and Northeastern in ’05. … Lucas’ career stats so far: two carries, six yards, two touchdowns. … In his first 19 games at W&M, Pitts had one catch for 17 yards. In his last three, he has seven receptions for 116 yards and three touchdowns. … Next week’s opponent is at Maine (1-4, 0-3), which lost 33-23 to Elon Saturday.