The Collegian
Friday, January 27, 2023

Richmond steps into Top 10, heads to No. 6 Delaware

The University of Richmond defense gave up more points than it had during its last three games, but the Spiders remained undefeated at UR Stadium with at 35-27 win over the Villanova University Wildcats on Nov. 3.

Needing a win to have any hopes at post-season play, Villanova coach Andy Talley called a variety of trick plays because with a freshman quarterback, Chris Whitney, Talley said he didn't have confidence in his offense's ability to move the ball downfield consistently.

The Wildcats rushed for 176 yards, led by Whitney, who had 77 yards on 16 carries, and frequently broke the Spiders' tackles early in the game.

"The first half, we executed our plays, we just didn't finish," defensive end Lawrence Sidbury Jr. said. "The biggest thing is getting the ball carrier down on the ground. We missed a ton of tackles, and that's where all the big plays came from."

The Spiders' game plan was to blitz the freshman Whitney.

"They did a great job of disguising their blitz," Whitney said. "Besides the one mistake we had, I thought we played pretty well."

The "mistake" occurred when Whitney threw over the middle to tight end Matthew Sherry early in the third quarter. Spider safety Stephen Howell intercepted the pass, which led to Andrew Howard's field goal after five consecutive Tim Hightower runs.

"We expected them to do exactly what they did — run Tim Hightower at us," Talley said.

Hightower carried the ball 36 times for 187 yards and a touchdown. As a team, Richmond ran the ball 46 times compared to 24 pass attempts. Junior Josh Vaughn scored another rushing touchdown and added 30 yards on three carries.

Sophomore quarterback Eric Ward rushed for 26 yards on six carries and also had a rushing touchdown. Throwing the ball, Ward was 17 of 24 for 178 yards and a touchdown.

"I thought Eric Ward played phenomenal, in a large part due to Kevin Grayson being back," Richmond head coach Dave Clawson said.

Grayson had suffered a finger injury while practicing before the University of Rhode Island game two weeks earlier. Doctors allowed Grayson to decide whether he wanted to play against Villanova, the receiver said. He responded with four catches for 71 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

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This weekend the No. 9-ranked Spiders travel to the University of Delaware to play the No. 6-ranked Blue Hens, a game that will move one team a step closer to a Colonial Athletic Association championship and an automatic berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

Delaware (8-1, 5-1 in CAA) has the most potent offense in the conference, the leading passer in the conference and a Walter Payton Award finalist at running back, who has already set conference records for rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns during a season. The Blue Hens average 39.2 points per game.

Senior running back Omar Cuff, who is also just three rushing touchdowns shy of the NCAA FCS single-season record, now has 31 touchdowns this year after scoring three during the Blue Hens' 37-24 victory last weekend against No. 12-ranked James Madison University. Senior quarterback Joe Flacco leads the conference with 2,665 passing yards and he has thrown 13 touchdowns with only three interceptions.

"Delaware is loaded," Clawson said. "It is as complete an offense as we've ever had to defend. Flacco is amazing. He makes throws you don't coach because most can't do it. They've got three outstanding receivers, a good tailback and tight ends."

The Spiders have a formidable offense themselves, placing fourth in the conference in yards per game and third in points per game. Hightower currently leads the CAA in rushing yards, and he set a new school record last weekend when he scored his 16th rushing touchdown of the season, and 30th of his career.

But Hightower, who is as quick to compliment his offensive line as he is squeezing through one of its holes, took the performance in stride and immediately focused his attention on the next game.

"It's like coach [Clawson] always says: The reward for winning a big game is another big game," Hightower said. "Next week is going to be even bigger than this one."

Last year, Delaware came back from a 24-14 fourth quarter deficit to upset the then No. 10-ranked Spiders.

Richmond also has not won at Delaware in 20 years.

"That streak, it means nothing to [this team]," Clawson said. "This is the only time that the 2007 football team will play at Delaware. What happened before doesn't matter"

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