Richmond football's historic 2015 season ended on Friday night in North Dakota.
The Spiders, a team as talented as any but also quite young, were defeated handily by four-time defending champion North Dakota State in the FCS semifinals. The game was played in the FargoDome, probably the most intimidating venue in the FCS, and it appeared to have an effect on Richmond in its 33-7 loss.
The Spiders went down early and the fans contributed to a momentum for the Bison that simply could not be overcome. NDSU came out and powered through a usually stout Richmond defense, dominating in the running game and then using that success to open up passing lanes. The Spiders trailed by 13 after one quarter, and by 26 after two. One of those four touchdowns came from a punt return that ignited the Bison crowd to probably its loudest volume of the night. At that point, it was fairly clear that the Bison had an insurmountable advantage at home, and that they had been there before and the Spiders had not.
As I mentioned earlier, though, the Spiders are young. The team's success this season was unexpected–a new quarterback, young and unproven skill players and plenty of new faces on defense. Danny Rocco and his staff developed that team into a top-four FCS team in one season. Most of them will be back next season. Watch out, FCS.
This season was highlighted by some of the best statistical performances in Richmond's long football history. Jacobi Green, the senior Richmond will miss the most, turned into an absolute force midway through the season and rushed for 1,609 yards and 21 touchdowns and caught 28 passes for nearly 400 more yards and a touchdown. He had, simply put, one of the best single seasons for a Richmond running back ever.
Brian Brown did, too. The junior established himself as a formidable force in the passing game, catching 79 passes for 1,450 yards -- a single-season record for a Spider -- and six touchdowns. His was one of the best seasons a Richmond receiver has ever had, and he has another year to try to outdo himself.
Defensively, Richmond was as solid across the board as it's been in years, but one player did stand out. David Jones, a junior safety who suffered a devastating arm injury in Friday's loss, was one of the best in the country at his position as well. He finished the season with nine interceptions, including four in one game, both Richmond records. Between him and Brown, the Spiders will return two of the most dynamic players in the FCS next year.
And then there's a quarterback. In his first year as a starter, Kyle Lauletta threw for 3,598 yards -- second in all of the FCS -- and 19 touchdowns. Not bad for a first-year guy in the CAA. What was more surprising was his ability to lead a team to the semifinals in just his first year. His leadership and toughness set the tone for the Spiders all season. He will need to cut down on his 15 interceptions next season if the Spiders want to truly contend for a national championship, but even with those he is an asset to Rocco's team and will continue to be for two more years.
So, with all of those weapons, how did the Spiders lose? The Bison shut them all down. Not completely, but there was no rhythm. Brown caught five passes for 88 yards, but he had the best night of anyone. Lauletta threw two interceptions and was forced to run around all night. Green was more or less neutralized on the ground. And Jones suffered that arm injury, which was so gruesome ESPN elected not to show a replay.
Richmond will celebrate its success this season nonetheless, as it should. Rocco said he was extremely proud of his team. He won't allow them to be negative after reaching the FCS final four and playing the best season since 2008. But he will push them as hard as he can to improve.
As he has said over and over again this season, Rocco has a good football team. And next season he will too, because most of the same players will be on the field. The hardest part for the Spiders, after being within 60 minutes of a national championship appearance, will be waiting. Eight months and counting.
Contact sports editor Charlie Broaddus at email@example.com