Elon rallies from 18-point halftime deficit, knocks off No. 14 William & Mary

William & Mary’s march toward the FCS top 10 seemed on pace through a terrific first half Saturday. It came to a crashing halt as Elon rallied from an 18-point halftime deficit to beat the No. 14 Tribe 35-31 at Zable Stadium in the Colonial Athletic Association opener for both teams.

The Tribe (3-1, 0-1) led by 15 points after three quarters, before quarterback Matthew McKay (207 yards passing) led the Phoenix (3-1, 1-0) to three fourth-quarter touchdowns and the victory. Jalen Hampton (28 carries, 145 yards, three touchdowns) ran 15 yards for the winning touchdown with 1:07 left in the game.

McKay started the rally by orchestrating a 63-yard drive early in the fourth quarter with runs of 21 and 24 yards and an 11-yard pass to Jackson Parham. That set up Hampton’s 2-yard TD run that pulled the Phoenix to within 31-24.

McKay’s passes of 14 yards to DJ Moyer, 8 yards to Bryson Daughtry and 20 yards to Parham set up Moyer’s 1-yard touchdown run that cut W&M’s lead to 31-29. W&M All-American defensive end Nate Lynn stuffed Elon’s two-point attempt to tie the game.

But the Phoenix forced a Tribe punt on a three-and-out, and McKay led the winning 69-yard touchdown drive. It was a stunning ending to a game that started so well for the Tribe.

“In the first half we did a pretty good job and then, uncharacteristically, we gave the ball up,” William & Mary coach Mike London said of his team’s four turnovers. “Field position, where we started and where they started, became a critical component in the game.

“We did a poor job in the second half of executing the things we do well. Hats off to them for out-executing us, but we had self-inflicted wounds.”

The Tribe offense that entered on a roll — averaging 37.3 points and 478 yards — scored on its first series for the fourth consecutive game. The Tribe’s nine-play, 72-yard drive following the opening kickoff was another tour de force by quarterback Darius Wilson featuring a nice mix of pass and run.

Wilson passed for 19 yards to DreSean Kendick on the second play of the game before following Bronson Yoder’s 10-yard run with an 11-yard keeper of his own. He completed the drive with screen passes of 17 and 10 yards to running back Malachi Imoh, the latter for a touchdown, as the Tribe led 7-0.

Caylin Newton, younger brother of former NFL quarterback Cam Newton, made his case yet again that he could the Tribe’s big-play answer at wide receiver on the first play of W&M’s next possession. He beat tight coverage along the sideline to catch a long pass from Wilson on his way to a 75-yard touchdown that increased the Tribe lead to 14-0 with 7:35 left in the first quarter.

Although Elon’s defense, ranked No. 12 in the country, had no answer for Wilson and the Tribe offense in the first half, its No. 15-ranked offense fought back. McKay sandwiched completions of 20 and 11 yards around his 15-yard keeper to set up power running back Hampton’s 3-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Hampton, who ran for 98 yards in the first half, gained 39 yards on four carries to start the Phoenix’s next possession. That set up all-conference kicker Skyler Davis’ 30-yard field goal that reduced the Tribe’s lead to 14-10 with 14:05 left in the first half.

The Tribe responded with touchdown drives of 69 and 55 yards. The Tribe, ranked third nationally at 287.7 yards per game rushing, did most of the work on the ground in the first drive, capped by Imoh’s 9-yard TD run on an option pitch from Wilson.

Wilson retook control through the air on the next drive, completing all three passes for 40 yards. He scrambled from danger, allowing tight end Lachlan Pitts to break wide open in the end zone on an 18-yard touchdown reception that stretched the Tribe lead to 28-10 with 4:13 left in the first half.

Wilson finished the first half 11 of 14 for 203 yards. He cooled off to start the second half, and his fumble deep in W&M territory set up McKay’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Daughtry that cut the Tribe’s lead to 28-16 with 5:06 left in the third quarter.

The Tribe regained some offensive momentum on the play after the ensuing kickoff as Bronson Yoder powered for 11 yards and W&M got 15 more on a face-mask penalty. Wilson connected with Newton again, this time for 14 yards, and after Yoder’s 7-yard run, and Ethan Chang kicked a season-best 46-yard field goal to give the Tribe a 31-16 lead with 2:53 to play in the third quarter.