On Saturday, William and Mary proved to Tribe faithful just how balanced this year’s squad really is. The offense showed promise in both the rushing and the passing game, putting up a whopping 483 yards of total offense in the process. The defense garnered two end zone interceptions, all the while holding the Leopards to just 7 total points.
W&M’s special teams notched a blocked field goal at the hands of Tyler Claytor, converted on both field goal attempts courtesy of Nick Dorka, and kicked two booming punts that averaged 51 yards each at the foot of Hunter Windmuller. Head Coach Jimmye Laycock has to be pleased with what he saw in this contest, as the Tribe absolutely trounced Lafayette in all facets of the game. Let’s recap how they did it.
Offense: William and Mary’s offense started off slow, going three and out on its first drive. However, the Tribe’s next two drives would go for touchdowns. These drives were very impressive, covering spans of 80 and 91 yards, respectively. The first scoring drive was capped off by a Mikal Abdul-Saboor two yard touchdown, and the second included a 52 yard touchdown pass to Christian Reeves.
At the end of the first half, the Tribe commanded a 14-7 lead, before going on to score 20 unanswered points in the second half en route to a 34-7 victory. The offense was firing on all cylinders, scoring on four of their five drives in the second half. QB Steve Cluley continued to show off his deep ball ability when he connected with Kevin Hart on a 58 yard touchdown pass, extending the Tribe’s lead to 24-7.
After a blocked field goal set the Tribe offense up on the Lafayette 32 yard line, Mikal Abdul-Saboor took over. On the second play of the drive, Abdul-Saboor ripped off a 32 yard touchdown run, stiffing arming two defenders as he hit paydirt. Just like that, the Tribe blocked a field goal and extended their lead to 31-7, flexing their muscles to the dismay of the Leopards’ faithful. Adding insult to injury, kicker Nick Dorka would eventually add one more field goal to make the score 34-7, marking the end of the Tribe’s offensive onslaught.
Steve Cluley, now with a season as starter under his belt, impressed in this one. He went 20/30, throwing for 289 yards and two touchdowns (both deep bombs of 52 and 58 yards). He did throw an interception late in the first half, but still posted impressive numbers nonetheless. Mikal Abdul-Saboor was his usual self, rushing for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 17 carries. The Lafayette Leopards were stacking the box most of the game, and that may have led to less carries for Abdul-Saboor. But no matter, he still tore it up.
One particular player who stood out offensively in this game was senior receiver Christian Reeves. Wide Receivers coach Winston October said that Reeves was making the type of plays in the offseason that “All-Conference” guys make. That is high praise, but Reeves really did look like an All-Conference player in this one. He had two catches for 62 yards and a touchdown, and even added one rush for 19 yards. He would have had more yard yet, but Cluley missed a wide open Reeves on a deep ball late in the game.
In the end, we like what we see from the offense in this game. A good passing game will do wonders for this Tribe offense and can open up lanes even more for the best running back in the CAA, Mikal Abdul-Saboor. Don’t forget, William and Mary’s best receiver DeVonte Dedmon, didn’t even suit up for the Tribe on Saturday, as he was out due to an illness. The future bodes well for the Tribe if our young receiving corps can continue on as they did in this season opening game.
Defense: The Lafayette offense could not do much against the Tribe defense this game, and ended up punting the ball or turning it over on 9 of their 10 possessions. To be fair, their starting QB Drew Reed was suspended for this game, which of course was an unexpected but welcome surprise for the Tribe. Nonetheless, William and Mary’s defense was particularly impressive in the red zone on Saturday. Lafayette had not one, but two drives thwarted by end zone interceptions.
The W&M defense was led by senior captain DeAndre Houston-Carson, who garnered 13 tackles and was all over the field in this one. He was always there to provide a stop on the back end; he already looks at home at the safety position, having made the change from cornerback in the offseason. On top of DHC, the Tribe’s trio of linebackers combined for 25 tackles in the contest, led by 10 at the hands of linebacker Zach Fetters, a new starter for the Tribe this season.
While the defense did not record any sacks, as previously stated, the unit did come down with two big-time interceptions. Lafayette tested the Tribe corners early, knowing that they had an impressive big size advantage on the outside. This led to Lafayette lobbing up an early jump ball to the end zone, but fortunately for the Tribe, 5’10” CB Aaron Swinton went up and intercepted the ball over a much taller 6’4″ receiver. Swinton (now number 3), showed off his abilities both as a corner and as a returner, and added 4 tackles to go along with his interception in this contest.
The second interception came toward the end of the game, when the Tribe looked to their second-stringers, already equipped with a 34-7 lead. This was a time for the backups to shine, and redshirt freshman corner Raeshawn Smith took full advantage. Smith came down with a beautiful interception in the end zone for his first collegiate interception. We here at the W&M Sports Blog were very happy to see younger players like Smith getting playing time and making an impact; we hope that interception was the first of many to come in the freshman’s collegiate career.
Overall, Lafayette ended up with 332 yards of total offense, but just 89 yards on the ground. Much of that had to do with the interior of the defensive line, led by senior Tyler Claytor and sophomore Isaiah Stephens. These two behemoths were filling all of the running lanes, leaving little to no room for Lafayette to run.
While we all know that Luke Rhodes and DeAndre Houston-Carson are stars who will provide constant production for the Tribe, two individuals who also impressed were Zach Fetters and Aaron Swinton. Fetters was a relative unknown before this year. He was a wide receiver his first two years, and transitioned to linebacker just last season, in which he played as a reserve for 11 games. Now, in his senior season, he is one of the Tribe’s starting three linebackers, playing alongside Luke Rhodes and Ian Haislip. He ended up with 10 tackles in the game and was all over the field. We hope this production continues, because it will do that much more for this defense.
Aaron Swinton saw action in 10 games last season and started the final three. This year, he is a starter, and is more than looking the part. As previously mentioned, he had an interception and a return for 40 yards–but he unfortunately had to leave the game with an injury after this return. Swinton is just a sophomore and we believe he will prove huge for the Tribe not only this season but down the road as well.
In the end, the defense was solid across the board. Lafayette had a couple of nice drives, but the Tribe defense did not give up, and even forced turnovers. The unit gave up just 89 yards rushing and looked dominant for most of the game. We are excited to see how they will perform against UVA in the coming weeks.
Special Teams: Nick Dorka connected on both of his field goals, from 20 yards and 32 yards, respectively. Punter Hunter Windmuller had two punts that traveled 102 yards, an impressive average of 51 yards per punt. And returner Aaron Swinton put on the jets and had a 40 yard return in the second quarter.
On top of good special teams play all around, the Tribe did what they did all last year: block kicks. William and Mary led the FCS last season with 10 blocked kicks, and they added one to start the season in this game. We have no idea how they’re so good at it, but we’re not complaining. As mentioned, senior Tyler Claytor got his hands on a field goal attempt by Lafayette in the third quarter, and Denzel Dykes picked it up and returned it for 55 yards all the way down to the Leopards’ 35 yard line. Undoubtedly an impressive showing for W&M’s special teams in this one.
Injury Update: The game produced a couple of injuries for the Tribe. Starting left tackle Chris Durant came out of the game in the first half and did not return. He was replaced at left tackle by Jared Templeton, who did a fine job for the rest of the game.
Sophomore phenom DeVonte Dedmon did not suit up for William and Mary in this one. He reportedly has an illness and there is no word on to how long he will be out. Defensively, sophomore Aaron Swinton went down with an injury after his 40 yard return in the second quarter. He did not return to the game.
We hope that both Durant and Swinton’s injuries are minor, and that the upcoming BYE week will get them healthy in time for UVA.
Around the CAA: William & Mary and JMU were the only two teams in the entire CAA to acquire a win this past weekend. To be fair, W&M and JMU played FCS foes, whereas the vast majority of the CAA played against bigger and better FBS opponents. But we’ll take it, because why not?
Conclusion: William and Mary looked like a force to be reckoned with in this one. They were productive offensively, sound defensively, and made plays on special teams. We couldn’t chalk up a more well-rounded game for the Tribe. Hopefully the aforementioned players will get healthy in the bye week, and William and Mary will be full force when they head to Charlottesville to take on the Virginia Cavaliers. We are incredibly excited to see where this team takes us this year, and after this week’s game, we are thinking big. As always thanks for reading and ROLL TRIBE!!!