William & Mary rebooked its spot in the Football Championship Subdivision top 10 and remained on course for a first playoff berth in six years with its ugliest and most exciting victory of the season Saturday.
The No. 10 Tribe defeated No. 17 Rhode Island 31-30 in a Colonial Athletic Association game at Zable Stadium on linebacker Isaiah Jones’ game-saving tackle with no time remaining. Jones dropped quarterback Kasim Hill for a loss on a two-point conversion attempt that would’ve won the game for the Rams.
Rhode Island elected to go for two points after Hill completed a 7-yard touchdown pass as time expired in the fourth quarter, capping a 16-play, 99-yard drive in the final 2 minutes, 56 seconds. Trailing by a point, the Rams — who went seven overtimes in beating Monmouth 48-46 a week earlier — decided to forgo extra time.
That suited Jones just fine.
“I love that it’s win or go home, that extra adrenaline and energy going through everyone’s blood,” said Jones, a 6-foot-1, 245-pound senior from Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Hill, running to his left after the snap, looked to get the ball to running back Gabe Sloat on a shovel pass. But Jones cut in front of Sloat, denying that option, and then took off in pursuit of Hill, who attempted to break free around left end.
Jones cut off Hill’s angle to the end zone and dropped him at the 6 as he attempted to turn the corner.
“It was an all-out blitz, to make sure the quarterback didn’t have time to sit back and take his time and make a clean throw,” said Jones, who made three unassisted tackles in the fourth quarter. “I saw the guard and tackle pull to the field, so I stayed there, stayed in my gap to make sure I read my key like (his coaches) put emphasis on.
“I was able to make the play by holding that shovel pass and making the quarterback use his legs and just tracking him down. It’s a matter of who wants it more: us or them.”
The Tribe (7-1, 4-1 CAA) never lacked for effort, but was often its own worst enemy in turning the ball over four times. The Rams (5-3, 3-2) responded to Tribe failures to convert third and fourth downs with touchdowns that gave them a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Hill (283 yards passing) was responsible for both, running 1 yard for a score in the first quarter before passing 8 yards to Kahtero Summers on the first play of the second quarter. That capped a 90-yard touchdown drive that followed the first of three fumbles the Tribe lost.
“Overcoming turnovers, uncharacteristically, that’s what it’s about sometimes,” Tribe coach Mike London said. “Things don’t always go great and they don’t always go perfectly, but you make changes to give yourself a chance of success.”
The Tribe succeeded because it ran the ball so well once again. Ranked fourth nationally in rushing, the Tribe ground game netted a season-high 314 yards, W&M’s second consecutive game of 300 or more and third of the season.
The Tribe was back on even terms at 14-14 by halftime and vaulted to a 31-21 lead with 8:51 left in the fourth quarter. Bronson Yoder (113 yards rushing, one TD), Malachi Imoh (93 yards rushing, one TD), Donavyn Lester (52 yards rushing, two TDs) and Hollis Mathis (56 yards rushing) each had big moments running the ball.
But Rhode Island punched back, notching a field goal before launching the late touchdown drive that included Hill passes of 8 and 25-yards to former Smithfield High standout Darius Savedge. Jones’ heroics saved the day for the Tribe, prompting a huge celebration.
“It was surreal to make the last play to guarantee us a win,” he said. “I’m happy I was able to celebrate with my brothers I bond with on the field and have the coaches surrounding me.
“It’s not just a ‘me’ thing. It’s a ‘we’ thing.
“To be able to celebrate with my brothers, have them in my arms, have them on top of me and have them be able to smile and laugh and just go into the locker room and joke with them — it’s a surreal feeling.”