Home William & Mary FCS playoff run comes to end with 55-7 loss at Montana State

William & Mary FCS playoff run comes to end with 55-7 loss at Montana State

Scott Ratcliffe

William & Mary footballA memorable season came to an end about 1,850 miles from home late Friday night, as William & Mary failed to stop the run and could never get anything going offensively in a 55-7 loss at Montana State in the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs.

The fifth-seeded Tribe conclude the season with a school-record 11 wins (11-2), but their 8-game winning streak was snapped as they fell short of the ultimate goal of capturing the program’s first national title.

The fourth-seeded Bobcats (12-1) racked up 328 yards on the ground, part of a 473-yard performance that stifled Mike London’s squad on a chilly night on the road. Montana State sophomore quarterback Tommy Mellott rushed for 3 touchdowns and threw for another, while senior running back Isaiah Ifanse, playing in just his second game of the season after rehabbing from an offseason knee injury, rushed for 162 yards and two more scores — on just 11 carries.

It was a long night for London’s squad, which converted only twice on third down out of 15 tries and just couldn’t contain Mellott, Ifanse, and the Bobcats’ ground attack.

The two teams combined for four-straight three-and-outs to start the contest before the Tribe wasted an early third-down opportunity, as Malachi Imoh dropped a would-be first down pass and the Tribe had to punt it away for a third time. Fueled by the shift in momentum, that’s when Ifanse and the Bobcats’ offense caught fire.

Starting from its own 30-yard line, Ifanse quickly advanced the Montana State offense into striking distance in just three plays, rushing for 51 yards and moving the ball into the red zone. The two teams had combined for 15 yards in 15 plays prior to Ifanse’s outburst.

The Tribe came up with a third-down stop to limit the Bobcats to a 30-yard Blake Gessner field goal for the game’s first points with 3:40 left in the opening period, but it was all Montana State from there.

Following a William & Mary punt — one of 10 on the evening — Mellott’s 42-yard strike to tight end Treyton Pickering set up his own 22-yard touchdown trot on the final play of the quarter, as the Tribe found itself in an early 10-0 hole. Things got worse in a hurry.

After a fifth-straight W&M three-and-out, Ifanse broke the game open and became the leading rusher in Montana State history with a 68-yard scamper to the house to make it 17-0 with 12:56 until halftime.

The Tribe appeared to have come up with a crucial stop on the Bobcats’ ensuing possession, as Malcolm Spencer intercepted a Mellott pass near the goal line, but teammate Quinn Osborne was flagged for interference and Mellott made it 24-0 a few plays later with an 8-yard touchdown run with 5:53 left in the first half.

The Tribe picked up their first two offensive first downs of the game in consecutive snaps on the ensuing drive, but sophomore quarterback Darius Wilson was ultimately picked off by Montana State’s Simeon Woodard, who returned it 30 yards into W&M territory to end the excitement.

That led to a 50-yard Gessner field goal with 18 ticks left in the second quarter, and the Tribe headed to halftime trailing 27-0. Montana State outgained the Tribe 289-64 in the first half.

The Bobcats picked up right where they left off to start the second half, as Marqui Johnson’s 87-yard kickoff return set up an Ifanse 9-yard score on the first play from scrimmage to make it 34-0 just 20 seconds into the third quarter.

“When you get those explosive plays — long passes or long runs — it kind of changes the trajectory of the game a little bit,” London said. “So they got up on us and we just couldn’t quite get it going as much as we needed to in our run game, which had been dominant for us, and just the mark of a really good football team, [the Bobcats] stayed consistent in everything they did throughout the game.”

Less than three minutes later, Mellott was back in the end zone, set up by a 28-yard run by fellow QB Sean Chambers, and London’s squad was down by 41 with still more than 30 minutes of game time to go.

After a 79-yard Taco Dowler punt return for six made it 55-0 with 5:03 left in the third quarter, the Tribe finally got on the board in the fourth.

Wilson completed a 34-yard pass to JT Mayo for the team’s first third-down conversion of the night, and then senior running back Bronson Yoder rumbled for 32 more to the Bobcats’ 2-yard line. Yoder found paydirt two plays later to avoid the shutout with 3:11 to play.

“Bronson is a phenomenal player…” said London. “Tough runner, he’s a guy that never gives up.”

For the game, W&M was outgained 473-197, with 131 of those yards coming on the Tribe’s final two possessions. Yoder finished with 122 yards on 26 carries, while Wilson was 7-for-18 for just 62 yards on the evening, rushing 9 times for 12 yards.

Mellott accounted for 151 yards (106 passing, 45 rushing) and 24 points to help lead the Bobcats, who will face the South Dakota State-Holy Cross winner in next week’s semifinal round.

“I’m disappointed the way we performed,” said London. “That’s a very good football team, Montana State. Well-coached, very physical. I see why they’re last year’s runner-ups. Complete football team — offense, defense, special teams, everything. We didn’t do what we needed to do today to sustain drives and be successful in third-down situations. [The Bobcats] did a good job of getting after us, and we didn’t do enough.

“So hat goes off to ‘em, and obviously I’m disappointed in today’s game, but I’m not disappointed in our players or the outcome of the season that we’ve had — one of the best seasons in school history and the opportunities that were extended to us to be able to play in the FCS playoffs and play a caliber of a team like this — this is the kind of rarified air that we want to be in. We want to be like a team like Montana State, that’s year-in, year-out in the playoffs and competing for championships. I believe we can do that, but we’ve got a ways to go.”

Scott Ratcliffe

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.