Nationally ranked William & Mary outlasts Hampton in CAA nail-biter

Not many people gave Hampton University much of a chance to compete when the Pirates joined the Colonial Athletic Association this year.

“We were picked to finish last,” said Pirates coach Robert Prunty. “Everybody said we were going to get blown out.”

Well, the rest of the conference had better take notice now because the Pirates are here to compete.

Just ask William & Mary.

The Tribe came into Saturday’s game against the Pirates ranked No. 8 nationally in the FCS Stats Perform poll and No. 9 in the coaches poll. William & Mary needed two scores in the second half to hold off Hampton 20-14 at Armstrong Stadium.

“It was a hard-fought battle and it went down to the end,” Prunty said about the two schools, which are separated by about a 30-minute drive. “They made a few more plays than we did.”

Hampton (4-5, 1-5 CAA) went ahead in the third quarter on Darran Butts’ 23-yard touchdown run to give the Pirates a 14-10 lead with 58 seconds left.

But the Tribe answered on the ensuing drive when running back Malachi Imoh broke a 49-yard touchdown run to give William & Mary a 17-14 lead.

“It was a big touchdown. It was a big drive for us,” said Imoh, who finished with 93 yards. “We knew the game hadn’t been going the way we wanted it to go. We knew this was a drive when we needed to score. We knew going in that we needed a big play as a whole offense, and everything worked out really well.”

Hampton moved the ball on its next possession, but it resulted in a missed field goal.

The Pirates also had other missed opportunities, including a fumble on the William & Mary 2 in the first half and another fumble to start the second half in Tribe territory.

“Being a coach, you can’t dwell on the plays and mistakes that happen during the game,” Prunty said. “You just have to keep making adjustments.”

William & Mary (8-1, 5-1) added to its lead in the fourth quarter on Ethan Chang’s 35-yard field goal with 7:17 left.

Hampton had one more opportunity, but it resulted in a punt. The Tribe ran out the final six minutes of the game.

For the game, the Tribe rushed for 309 yards.

“We have an identity. So when things get rough, we get tough. We’ll go back to our identity, which is running the ball, which we do effectively,” said running back Bronson Yoder, who rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown. “It’s not a perfect win, but a win is a win. We’re going to celebrate a win every time we get one.”

But this game will definitely help the Pirates in the future as they make others take notice.

Prunty reminded his players of that following the game.

“I just told them to keep playing and keep fighting,” he said. “We’re not going to die. We’re not going to go away. We’re going to be a thorn in your side.”

Hampton wide receiver Romon Copeland said a game like this, though it was a loss, will help the Pirates.

“It just proves that we can play with anybody,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who it is, whether it’s a ranked team or not. Whoever we play, we’re going to give them a fight and give them our all.

“I’m just really proud of this team. I’m just really proud of the way we fought. Us being an HBCU team and competing with a nationally ranked team, that says a lot.”