Late drive lifts offense past defense in W&M football spring game

Posted at 4:46 PM, Feb 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-29 16:46:15-05

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. ( - Played on the final day of February, with feels-like temperatures in the mid-30s, William & Mary's spring game was classic misnomer. But it wasn't without some drama.

Hollis Mathis' 8-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Lowery with 13 seconds remaining gave the Green a 26-21 win over the White Saturday at Zable Stadium. Under new coordinator Christian Taylor, the Tribe's offense scored three touchdowns to match its combined total from the previous two spring games.

Mathis, who started last season as a true freshman, completed 8-of-13 passes for 69 yards. He also rushed for 28 yards in a red (off limits) jersey.

He capped the day with a game-winning touchdown pass, which came on fourth down. Mathis was forced to use his legs in the pocket to find Lowery in the end zone.

"It was great," Mathis said. "Coach (Mike) London had said since there was five minutes left, the drive was probably going to take the rest of the game because of the running clock. I told the guys we'd have to buckle down and score. It was a fun drive and great work for everyone on the field."

London liked seeing his offense and defense face a down-to-the-wire situation in a live setting.

"To see it come down to a beat-the-clock scenario, having to score a touchdown at the very end, using your timeouts and personnel grouping, you couldn't ask for more," he said. "The way it ended, for it to happen here in a competitive situation, it's a learning (moment) for both sides."

The game was an offense vs. defense format, as it has been for the past several years. But this time, the defense was awarded three points for stops and six for turnovers (there were none). The offense's points came the traditional way.

Taylor, a former W&M quarterback and assistant, was the coordinator at the University of San Diego the last two seasons. He replaced Brennan Marion, who left after one season to become Hawaii's receivers coach.

Marion's offense was a no-huddle, up-tempo style he called the "Go-Go." Taylor leans more to the pro style with some shotgun and some under center.

"The 'Go-Go' stuff was pretty unique in some ways," he said. "I feel what we're going to do now will make us more multiple (and) allow us to do more things and disguise it more.

"We like the ability to change the tempo up during the game. If you're always no huddle, the defense expects that, and it doesn't catch them off guard. The defense can't predict what's going to happen as much."

Last season, the Tribe ran on nearly two-thirds of its plays from scrimmage. With Mathis, Taylor believes W&M has a legitimate dual threat quarterback who can make plays a variety of ways.

"Hollis, I think, has a chance to be a really special quarterback," Taylor said. "From a physical talent standpoint, the kid can run and throw. He's smart. He just has to develop himself as a quarterback.

"That's something he and the quarterback coach (Matt Johns) and I will be working on. It's exciting, his potential and ceiling. He could be as good as we've had here."

Junior Owen Wright, the Tribe's rushing leader last season, had 96 yards on 15 carries. He also had five catches for 44 yards.

Sophomore Elijah Burns carried 13 times for 60 yards. But if there was a Player of the Game, it probably would have gone to sophomore back Donavyn Lester, who scored two touchdowns and completed a 44-yard pass to wideout Tim Payne.

"It was spontaneous," Lester said. "We needed a big play."

NOTES: Voted captains by their teammates were quarterback Ted Hefter, defensive end Carl Fowler, offensive lineman Ryan Ripley, and linebacker Tyler Crist. Of the four, only Fowler was recruited as a scholarship player. … Although the spring game was Saturday, the Tribe will practice three times next week. London said one will be dedicated to special teams. … The offense's scoring included a 30-yard field goal by Jake Johnston. … Hefter completed 7-of-12 passes for 68 yards. He also had a pair of 2-point conversion passes, both of which required some creativity.