The Collegian
Friday, February 23, 2024

Football scoreless during London's bittersweet return to U.Va.

Richmond RB Justin Forte (20).(20).
Richmond RB Justin Forte (20).(20).

After a disappointing loss at the University of Virginia last Saturday, the football team is excited to start its conference play at home against Towson, the only CAA team that beat the Spiders last year.

"If the spider has eight legs, I think we shot ourselves all eight times," coach Mike London said at a press conference after the Virginia game. "It's a shame the outcome was what it was, but it was a learning experience, and these guys will learn from it and I'm really proud of them."

The Spiders lost 16-0 at Virginia, but Virginia's lead was 3-0 for a majority of the game. During Virginia's first drive of the game, Yannik Reyering completed a 26-yard field goal attempt to give the Cavaliers their first points of the game.

With 49 seconds remaining in the first half, Virginia had the ball on Richmond's 15-yard line with two yards to go for a first down. Sophomore linebacker Jordan Shoop intercepted Virginia quarterback Peter Lalich's pass and returned it 63 yards to Virginia's 24-yard line. The Spiders had 37 seconds left in the half to try to tie the game or take the lead.

The Spiders got no closer than the 12-yard line, and Andrew Howard, who completed 15 of 22 attempted field goals last season, lined up for his first field goal attempt of the season. The ball was partially blocked and went right of the goal post, sending the Spiders to the locker room losing 3-0.

"This was a great experience," Richmond junior wide receiver Jordan Mitchell said. "I think that, if nothing else, it shows us no matter whose team it is, I-A or I-AA or whatever division, we can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the country."

At the end of the first big drive of the second half, the Spiders, who completed one of 12 attempted third-down conversions, sent Howard on the field to attempt another 29-yard field goal. Again it was blocked - this time it didn't even make it to the goal post - and another quarter ended with a 3-0 score.

"I wish I was a sports psychologist, but I'm not," London said about what he was doing with Howard in practice. "We're trying to simulate that in practice, put pressure on him with a full rush."

It wasn't until the fourth quarter that the Virginia offense started to wear down the Richmond defense. Virginia tailback Mikell Simpson's touchdown midway through the fourth quarter gave them a 10-0 lead, and the game started to turn in Virginia's favor.

"We have a team speed on defense, they run to the ball well," London said. "Sometimes you can run out of your mistakes. I'm excited about the defense and what they've done."

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But being a step late, committing too many penalties or having mental errors cost the team last weekend, and London said he was trying to eliminate or at least minimize some of those issues.

Last week, Ward had said that he would have to be prepared for Virginia's pass rush, and half of his six sacks came during the fourth quarter. Ward, after re-entering the game despite suffering an injury, threw two interceptions, the second of which Virginia cornerback Vic Hall returned 60 yards for the Cavaliers' second touchdown of the game.

"We had plenty of opportunities to have the ball on the inside," Richmond senior offensive lineman Tim Silver said. "We just need to capitalize on those opportunities, and we thought that we would be able to do that. The longer we hung in, the more and more excited they got about the team."

The No. 4 Spiders are now 1-1 this season and will play Towson University, which is unranked, at 3 p.m. on Saturday at UR stadium. This is the Tigers' fifth year in the CAA, and they are responsible for two of the Spiders' four regular-season losses since Nov. 11, 2006.

"Towson coming into our house where they beat us two years ago, there's a lot of excitement," sophomore wide receiver Kevin Grayson said. "We have some things planned to get the crowd into the game."

In 2006, the Tigers came to Richmond and won, 31-7. Last year, Sean Schaefer threw a 14-yard game-winning touchdown pass, ending the game with a 23-21 score that ended up being the Tigers' only conference win and the Spiders' only conference loss.

"It was tough," junior free safety Derek Hatcher said. "You never want to lose a game like that; it was hard. It's in the back of our minds, I can't deny that."

Grayson currently leads the CAA and is ninth in the NCAA in receiving; he said his connection with junior quarterback Eric Ward was about as good as it could be. He said he and junior wide receiver Jordan Mitchell were trying to help out freshmen wide receivers Tre Gray and Donte Boston, which had helped them come together and talk as a group.

"[Grayson and Ward] feel very comfortable with each other," London said. "Other schools recognize that also, and we're going to get the ball to other playmakers too to get the pressure off of Kevin and Eric."

Grayson said the offense didn't show its ability to be high-scoring against Virginia, but he felt it would be able to do better against Towson, particularly with the help of upperclassmen who had been through numerous games and could hold their composure in emotional games.

"We know we'll put points on the board," Grayson said.

"We are not necessarily pressing to have high-scoring games, but we can't not put points on the board and leave the defense out there."

Hatcher said he was very happy about the defense's play against Virginia and its ability to create turnovers and interceptions. Hatcher had a career-high nine tackles during the game, and he said the defense as a whole had been very confident.

"I can still remember two years ago when they did come into our place," Hatcher said. "We want to go out there and prove to everyone we're a good team."

Even though there was a lot of excitement last week about the chance to play Virginia, London said that when it was over the players were already talking about playing Towson.

"This game is a big conference game," London said. "There's nothing I have to say to the players to get them ready."

Contact staff writer Barrett Neale at barrett.neale@richmond.edu

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