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Mike London, William & Mary, play at Montana State with FCS semis berth on the line

William & Mary footballA trip to the FCS Semifinals will be on the line when William & Mary travels to take on Montana State, on what will be a chilly Friday night at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman (10:15 p.m., ESPN2).

The fifth-seeded Tribe (11-1), winners of a school-record eight games in a row, took care of business against Gardner-Webb last week in Williamsburg in the second round, 54-14. Sophomore quarterback Darius Wilson threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns, and also rushed for a team-high 89 yards on 8 carries in the win over the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

“I liked the way we executed, we started fast,” said W&M head coach Mike London. “We were able to have explosive runs, explosive passes, kind of able to do some things that would allow our offense to be productive and efficient, and I thought defensively we did a great job of swarming to the ball.”

Senior running back Bronson Yoder added a couple of rushing TDs and sophomore receiver JT Mayo hauled in a pair of scores — his first two touchdowns of the season — for the Tribe, who posted a well-balanced 608 yards (306 rushing, 302 passing).

Wilson has thrown for 678 yards and 7 touchdowns (no interceptions) across the Tribe’s last three games, while rushing for 226 yards and three more scores. London attributes a lot of the team’s unprecedented success to Wilson’s play.

“The young man’s got skills,” London said of his quarterback. “He’s got ability to run, to evade, to extend plays, got a good arm, and he trusts in his receivers. So when you have a quarterback playing at a high level, it gives you a chance, and he’s given us a chance, as we all know.”

GWU running back Narii Gaither, who had put up 245 yards in the opening round against Eastern Kentucky, was held to 89 yards on 12 carries Saturday, as the Tribe defense came away with 6 takeaways (4 interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries) on the day.

The 54 points, 608 total yards, 302 rushing yards and 6 takeaways were all school playoff records. Now, the Tribe must take the show on the road, where they are a perfect 6-0 this season.

“If you want to be able to win championships in the FCS, you’ve got to be able to win on the road,” said London.

The No. 4-seeded Bobcats (11-1) are 7-0 at home in 2022, and they held off a fourth-quarter rally last week in the second round to defeat Weber State, 33-25. They’ve reeled off nine-consecutive wins following their only loss of the season, a 68-28 defeat at Oregon State in mid-September.

Montana St. racked up 554 yards (388 on the ground) last week against the Wildcats. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Mellott had a huge day, rushing for 167 yards on 21 carries while completing 13 of his 19 attempts for 91 yards.

Another QB, junior Sean Chambers, was 2-for-2 through the air, with both completions going for scores, including a 47–yard double-reverse toss to senior wideout Willie Patterson early in the fourth quarter that made it 33-10 before Weber St. mounted one final comeback attempt.

The Bobcats average 43.9 points per contest, and posted a season-high 72 points last month against Cal Poly, and they do the majority of their damage via the run game. Mellott went for a team-best 1,013 rushing yards on the season to go with 9 trips to the end zone (he threw for just 1,401 yards and 9 TDs), while Chambers is second on the team with 789 yards on the ground and a team-high 18 rushing touchdowns. Chambers also put up 584 yards and 8 scores through the air.

The William & Mary defense will have its hands full with Mellott and Chambers, as London pointed out.

“They’re two talented quarterbacks that can run and provide those explosive plays,” London said of the duo. “They’ve got a really good offensive line, but they bring in two quarterbacks that have been efficient and proficient… we’re going to have to be sharp.”

Temperatures in Bozeman are expected to dip into the teens shortly after kickoff Friday. The Tribe departed the 757 for Big Sky Country on Wednesday in hopes to get acclimated to the chilly weather, but London believes his team will compete hard for 60 minutes, regardless of the conditions.

“It’s gonna be cold, we know that for sure,” said London, “but that’s all part of it.”

A win Friday would not only give the Tribe another program record — 12 victories in a single season, but it would also leave them just one step away from playing for a national championship.

Whichever team prevails in Bozeman will go up against the winner between top-seeded South Dakota State and No. 8 seed Holy Cross in next week’s semifinal round.

As of Thursday evening, the Bobcats are listed as a 7.5-point favorite (over-under 65) to knock off the Tribe, according to Caesars Sportsbook. London took his Richmond team on the road as part of the Spiders’ 2008 FCS championship run, and hopes to emerge victorious from Friday’s contest and continue the quest for William & Mary’s first national title.

London said his team must continue to do all the things that got them this far — excel in the running game, limit turnovers, play smart defensively, particularly in third-down scenarios, and put pressure on the quarterback. He expects a “physical, back-and-forth” affair, and says his Tribe is ready for the challenge.

“It’s the culmination of all the practices, of all the drill work, of all those things like that,” London said of the task at hand, “and just saying let’s do what we do, see if we can do it better than them at a high level. I’ve heard it’s loud, their fan base is very supportive of them, but we’ve won games on the road before. … All that matters is what happens between the white lines.”

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.