WILLIAMSBURG — Less than five minutes in, William and Mary gave up a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown. Less than three minutes into the second quarter, having dominated the line of scrimmage to that point, the Tribe allowed a 37-yard run for six more points.
But each time, W&M responded — quickly. And a game that looked in doubt early became a blowout as the Tribe cruised to a 34-18 win over the 19th-ranked Wildcats on Saturday at Zable Stadium.
Those early hiccups aside, the No. 24 Tribe (4-2, 3-1 CAA) was flat-out dominant in its second consecutive win over a ranked opponent. And the game was won at the line of scrimmage.
Offensively, W&M rushed for 325 yards and didn't allow a sack against a defense that ranked second nationally in that category. Defensively, the Tribe got to UNH quarterback Sean Goldrich five times.
"I thought we played pretty well," William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said. "We had a couple of miscues in the kicking game, obviously, and a couple of coverage issues
"But our ability to run the football and to play defense, especially in the second half, our guys really played hard and played well. We had some things go against us here and there but, shoot, what can you say?"
The news wasn't all great. Tribe linebacker Luke Rhodes, the heart and soul of the defense, sprained his knee near the end of the first half. He watched the second half from the sideline with a brace on his left leg. He's scheduled to undergo an MRI on Sunday.
Casey DeAndrade's 90-yard punt return put W&M in an early hole, but the Tribe answered quickly. Steve Cluley's 2-yard run tied it with 4:29 left in the first quarter.
The Tribe held the Wildcats to a minus-9 yards on their first 10 snaps, but then came a 35-yard pass from Goldrich to Rory Donovan followed by a 37-yard touchdown run by Dalton Crossan. The two-point conversion put New Hampshire up 15-7.
But on the second play of the Tribe's ensuing drive, Kendell Anderson went 69 yards for a touchdown. Laycock elected not to chase points so early, so W&M remained behind. But it was the quick answer the Tribe needed.
"On the big run, our fullback, Wing Ding, just killed the linebacker and there was no one there," said Anderson (174 yards, two touchdowns), referring to Andrew Weidinger. "I got the ball and just ran."
Cluley, who hit on 14-of-22 throws and ran his streak without an interception to 144, also lauded the guys up front.
"They work really hard, especially today," he said. "That one goes to them. We were running the ball right down their throat. We established the run and they never shut it down. Obviously, if you eliminate sacks, that makes for more opportunities."
Meanwhile, W&M sacked Goldrich five times.
"We've worked our behinds off all year getting to the quarterback," said defensive tackle Isaiah Stephens, who had one of the five. "We didn't have that many sacks coming into the game (seven), but we knew we were the best defensive line in the conference. We showed it today."
UNH helped some. After W&M took its first lead on Anderson's second touchdown, the Wildcats had a first-and-goal from the 10-yard line with less than 30 seconds left. After spiking the ball to stop the clock at :25 on first down, Goldrich threw a screen to Crossan.
Crossan slipped at the line of scrimmage, and UNH coach Sean McDonnell didn't call his last remaining timeout. On third down, Goldrich threw to the end zone, where tight end Matt Torrey had gotten open.
Torrey dropped what looked like a catchable ball, and time expired. No touchdown, no field goal, nothing.
Then, on its first drive of the third quarter, UNH had another first-and-goal from the 10. But on fourth down from the 5, kicker Christian Breda hooked a chip shot.
Breda's third quarter got worse as he dropped a snap in punt formation. That led to a shanked kick and a 10-yard touchdown drive by the Tribe to make it 27-15.
On the next possession, DeAndre Houston-Carson blocked Breda's punt to give W&M possession at the UNH 30. On the next play, Cluley hit Warhill High grad DeVonte Dedmon for a touchdown.
"We wanted to put them away so there was no chance anymore," Cluley said. "Obviously after a turnover, you want to stick the dagger in the heart and finish them off."
Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.