Tribe offense comes alive too late, Virginia Beach's Cole Johnson leads No. 2 JMU to 32-22 win

Cole Johnson James Madison football.png
Posted at 3:02 AM, Nov 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-14 03:02:12-05

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. ( - Stuck in neutral for nearly three quarters, William & Mary's offense finally erupted. It came too late to dig out of the hole No. 2 James Madison had created, and the Tribe ended up with a 32-22 loss Saturday at Zable Stadium.

The Dukes led 23-0 late in the third quarter before No. 25 William & Mary made it a one-possession game early in the fourth. Head coach Mike London credited his team for showing resiliency, but he would have preferred to see it earlier.

"Obviously, we're disappointed in the final result," London said. "We just played the number two team in the country, and they beat us. But there are some things we left out on the field and can be better to make us more competitive.

"There were some good things. But obviously, you want to get better to compete when you're playing top-caliber talent like James Madison. We didn't do enough today, and they did enough to win here."

The game was showdown between the Colonial Athletic Association's No. 1 rushing offense (the Tribe) and No. 1 defense against the run (the Dukes). Statistically, it was basically a draw as W&M finished with 207 yards, slightly above its pre-game average. Of that, 125 came in the game's final 18½ minutes.

Malachi Imoh for 101 yards, 53 coming on a third quarter touchdown run, on 13 carries. Bronson Yoder finished 69, 46 of coming on a fourth-quarter touchdown run, on 10 attempts.

William & Mary (6-4, 4-3 CAA) was playing without Donavyn Lester, its leading rusher who was injured against Villanova on Oct. 30, for the second consecutive game.

The Tribe finished with 335 yards, 144 of which came on its three touchdowns. W&M didn't convert any of its 10 third-down chances, a big reason why JMU ran 37 more plays from scrimmage.

"Was it a great offensive performance? No," London said. "You've got to score points, more points than James Madison did. But at the same time, the second-half effort was much better than the first half playing against a team as good as they are."

With 3½ minutes left in the third quarter, William & Mary trailed 23-0 and had done almost nothing on offense. But on second down from the Tribe 26, Imoh picked up 21 yards on a sweep to the right side. On the next play, he weaved his way through Madison's defense for a 53-yard touchdown.

After JMU (9-1, 6-1) went three-and-out, the Tribe took over at its 24. On the fourth play of the possession, Yoder broke through the right side for a 46-yard touchdown. His 2-point conversion run cut Madison's lead to 23-15 — a one-possession game.

On William & Mary's first 24 rushing attempts, it gained 84 yards. On its next five carries, the Tribe picked up 120 yards and two touchdowns.

"We were 0-for on third downs, so the things that happened for us came on first and second down with explosive plays," London said. "That kind of picked up in the second half."

Less than three minutes after Yoder's touchdown, JMU's Ethan Ratke kicked a 27-yard field goal to make it 26-15. He added two more for a school-record total of six, the longest of which was 30 yards.

The Tribe got on the board one more time on Hollis Mathis' 45-yard touchdown pass to Cole Blackman.

"The second half, we came back and played much better," London said. "That's the mark of a team that doesn't quit. This team has been resilient all year."

Mathis, who injured his shoulder in last spring's abbreviated season, made his first start since Sept. 11 against Lafayette. He completed 8-of-14 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. Darius Wilson, who had started the previous seven games, did not play.

"The goal for us was to run the ball but also use Hollis and his ability to run kind of the triple option aspects," London said. "He had an excellent week of practice.

"He was throwing the ball and wasn't having any effects of his shoulder (injury). He was mentally alert and ready, so we made that decision to go with him."

William & Mary played the final two and a half quarters without safety Gage Herdman, who leads the team in interceptions with four. He was ejected after being called for targeting as JMU quarterback Cole Johnson went into a late slide just before the first down marker.

Because the penalty came in the first half, Herdman will be able to play in next week's regular season finale against Richmond.