In front of an audience of 11,301, the largest in LaValle Stadium history, the William & Mary Tribe were able to overcome yet another halftime deficit (down 3-14) in order to put Stony Brook away in dramatic fashion. Like the team’s last game against Lafayette, it was truly a tale of two halves for the Tribe against Stony Brook.
Offense: In this game, the Tribe offense produced just enough to get the job done. Running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor carried the ball early and often, finishing with 26 carries for 116 yards and two touchdowns–including the game winner in overtime. Outside of Abdul-Saboor, the Tribe didn’t receive much production on the ground. Quarterback Steve Cluley rushed the ball several times, but finished with negative totals due to sacks and negative yardage plays.
Although the Tribe ran the ball well, the team was not as efficient through the air in the first half. On the opening drive in which W&M moved the ball well, Cluley misfired on a throw to Tre McBride in the endzone. The ball was picked off by Stony Brook. Up until Steve Cluley’s game-saving pass to Sean Ballard in the fourth quarter, which went for 52 yards and a score, Cluley’s stats were hovering just under 200 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 interception. However, Cluley would finish the game with a very respectable 21 of 32 (65%) for 243 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception–despite being sacked 4 times.
Although the offense wasn’t clicking on all cylinders, the unit showed signs of promise. As mentioned, Abdul-Saboor wreaked absolute havoc on the ground. True freshman DeVonte Dedmon finished with 4 catches and 65 yards–one catch going 45 yards to the Stony Brook 5 yard-line. As a side note: one thing that has impressed me throughout this entire season has been Steve Cluley’s willingness and courage to push the ball downfield. The Tribe has the receiving talent for him to do this, and although Cluley’s stats aren’t pristine, his development of the deep ball will pay dividends in the future.
On top of Dedmon’s strong performance, senior Sean Ballard turned in what may just be his best game as a member of the Tribe. As mentioned, Ballard took a short pass from Cluley 52 yards down the field, sprinted past Stony Brook defenders, and scored one of the most clutch plays in recent memory as W&M tied the game 21-21 with 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Ballard finished with 6 receptions for 92 yards and 1 touchdown. Stony Brook did a good job of bottling up Tre McBride, who finished with 5 receptions for 19 yards.
Defense: As was the case last week, the defense did not have a good first half. Shortly after a Cluley interception, Stony Brook was able to march down the field on a long, sustained drive to score a 9 yard touchdown run. As time expired in the first quarter, the Tribe defense was again gashed by an 84 yard touchdown reception on a simple WR screen.
In the first couple games of the season, against Virginia Tech and Hampton, screens have given the Tribe some problems. Against Virginia Tech, it was somewhat acceptable because it was Tech. But, against Hampton, the screen and short passing game proved difficult for the Tribe defense to stop. In the first half against Stony Brook, this weakness was again shown in the form of an 83 yard touchdown pass. Against stronger offenses in the CAA, such as Richmond and New Hampshire, the Tribe has to be ready to defend the short passes–or these high powered teams will be hard to beat.
However, after the long touchdown play, the Tribe defense stiffened, especially in the second half. It all began with a Trey Reed forced fumble after a long Stony Brook run. Trey was able to get low and force the fumble with his helmet while making the tackle–the Tribe’s Frank Tamakloe would recover. The turnover would directly result in the Tribe converting a field goal by John Carpenter, making the score 14-3 going into halftime.
In the second half, the Tribe defense made some serious adjustments. The unit forced Stony Brook to punt the ball 5 out of 6 times on offensive possessions in the entire second half. Stony Brook would only score once on a 33 yard run late in the fourth quarter. The second half adjustment was reminiscent of a week prior against Lafayette. For a second week in a row, the Tribe defense absolutely dominated and shut down the opponent in the second half. Trey Reed led the team in tackles (8), followed by Luke Rhodes (4). If W&M’s defense puts a full game together, which they are more than capable of doing, the unit may be the most dominant defense in the CAA.
Special Teams: In the fourth quarter, the Tribe recovered a punt that glanced off of a Stony Brook player, which set up a 51 yard field goal attempt for John Carpenter. Carpenter went 2-4 on the night, connecting on attempts from 26 and 29 yards, but missing on two long attempts at 51 yards. I love Laycock’s decision to have John attempt these long kicks–Carpenter had enough leg for each kick, but pushed one wide right and pushed the other wide left. Carpenter also performed well in punting duties, filling in for the injured Hunter Windmuller. Carpenter doesn’t have quite the booming leg of Windmuller, but is still a serviceable punter.
In the end, it was a special teams play that all but sealed a victory for the Tribe. In the first possession of overtime, senior captain Stephen Sinnott blocked a Stony Brook field goal attempt. The Tribe would win the game by scoring on a Mikal Abdul-Saboor 13 yard touchdown run into the end zone.
Back in Action: Wide receiver Sean Ballard returned and was instrumental in the Tribe comeback. Left tackle Chris Durant returned to the offensive line, and running back Mikal Abdul Saboor also played after missing last week’s contest.
Out: Connor Hilland did not play in the game; we projected him as doubtful to play in this contest. Nick Easter filled in for Hilland at left guard. The Stony Brook defense was able to cause headaches for the offensive line in this one, as the Tribe gave up 6 sacks and lost 46 yards in the process.
The Tribe also missed the services of linebacker Airek Green and punter Hunter Windmuller, both were ruled out prior to the game by Jimmye Laycock.
Around the CAA: James Madison lost a heart-breaker to Delaware in overtime, Maine came from behind to beat Towson, and Villanova crushed Penn. The Tribe’s next opponent, New Hampshire, put up 52 points in a victory over Dartmouth.
Conclusion: The Tribe may come to be known as the “Cardiac Kids” if they continue to play the way they have. Slow starts have been the norm for the team in the last two weeks, but this can’t continue if W&M is to compete against the big dogs in the CAA. The Tribe heads into the bye week 4-1, waiting for a big showdown against New Hampshire on the road. GO TRIBE!!!