Winter 2023 Issue

A Season to Remember

William & Mary Football's record-breaking season concludes in NCAA quarterfinals

By Dave Johnson

It started in November when W&M Football clinched the CAA title in a 37-26 win over Richmond. Then William & Mary advanced to the NCAA FCS playoffs.

The team was ready. The Tribe was hopeful. W&M started the playoffs strong by dominating Gardner-Webb 54-14 in an exciting home game. The Tribe then advanced to the quarterfinal round for the first time since 2009.

Students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the Williamsburg community gathered to cheer on the team in a formal sendoff as they boarded the buses for Montana outside Kaplan Arena on Dec. 7, 2022. They were on their way to play the No. 4 seed, Montana State.

As the cheerleaders yelled to the crowd, “Let’s go All In for the win,” the Griffin gave high-fives to children and their parents who proudly saw the team off to the airport.

At watch parties on campus and around the country, the W&M community went All In to support the team, watching with bated breath as W&M Football charged forward into the NCAA championships.

But one of William & Mary’s finest seasons came to an end on a frigid night in December, more than 2,000 miles away from Williamsburg, Virginia.

Montana State, the national runner-up last season, defeated the Tribe 55-7 in a nationally televised game in Bozeman. The Bobcats broke open an early defensive struggle by scoring on eight consecutive drives with six touchdowns and two field goals.

William & Mary, seeded No. 5, finished the season with an 11-2 record, which by percentage (.846) is the second-best in program history. A school-record 10 wins came during the regular season.

“To be in the FCS playoffs and play a caliber of team like this, this is the kind of rarified air we want to be in,” W&M coach Mike London says. “We want to be a team like Montana State, that year in and year out is in the playoffs and competing for a championship.

“I believe we can do that, but we’ve got a ways to go. I love our team and the accomplishments of what occurred this year. We’ve got some work to do to keep it consistent and sustain it.”

When the game kicked off at 8:15 p.m. MT, the temperature was 20 degrees. Worse, the field was frozen in spots, which made footing an issue. Montana loaned W&M its heated benches, but that did nothing for the playing surface.

When asked if the conditions played a factor, London says, “Perhaps some, but control the controllables. That’s what happens between the white lines. I’m not going to sit here and say that was the issue. Obviously, we have to deal with whatever the circumstances are.

“With the weather and time change, we tried to adapt as much as we could. That’s a good football team that we played.”

Bronson Yoder ’23 rushed for 122 yards on 26 carries and scored the Tribe’s only touchdown, which came with 3:11 remaining in the game. Linebackers Kevin Jarrell ’22, M.B.A. ’24 and Brayden Staib ’23 led the defense with seven tackles apiece.

Each team went three-and-out on its first two possessions. But after William & Mary made it three in three, the Bobcats got their high-powered attack going.

“You talk about explosive plays, they had a few,” London says. “They got up on us and we couldn’t quite get it going as much as we needed to in our running game, which has been dominant for us.”

The Tribe finished the season by setting three team rushing records: yards (3,455), average yards per game (265.7) and average yards per carry (5.9).

W&M Football averaged 448.8 total yards a game, fourth on the all-time list. Yoder finished the year with 1,255 yards, the eight-best season by a Tribe back in program history. His 13 rushing touchdowns are tied for fifth.

The team experienced several other incredible moments during the season.

A week before the Montana game, television crews went onto the field at Zable Stadium to cover a surprise of a lifetime for Jalen Jones ’25, who was awarded a football scholarship at William & Mary. Jones was a walk on for the Tribe in 2021 as a defensive back and played a key role in the university’s breakout season this year. As a cornerback, he was named Defensive Rookie of the Year.

With his family by his side, his fellow teammates and coaches were on hand for the reveal. The joy he and everyone around him experienced as they learned about his scholarship — along with the jubilation of all W&M fans during the fall season winning streak — are reasons enough for the team, the coaching staff and fans alike to continue to go All In.

It was a year of many accolades for W&M Football. Outside linebacker John Pius ’24 was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s Defensive Player of the Year. Making first-team All-CAA were running back Yoder, offensive tackles Charles Grant ’24 and Colby Sorsdal ’22, defensive end Nate Lynn ’23, cornerback Ryan Poole ’22, M.B.A. ’24 and special teams player Caylin Newton. And the NCAA announced that W&M Athletics has the highest graduation rate of Division I public universities, for the 17th time in 18 years.

The Alma Mater of the Nation’s colors — green and gold — were on full display in the weeks and months leading up to the big quarterfinals game. It was a spectacular run for the Tribe.