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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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Richmond beats Maine 44-17, gets No. 1 ranking

Justin Forte (20)
Justin Forte (20)

Collegian Reporter

Richmond wide receiver Jordan Mitchell knew exactly how to beat Maine's defenders when they started playing 12 yards off him: one quick move to the sideline.

That's all it took for him to get open for an 87-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Eric Ward, a play that tied for the second-longest scoring play in school history and was part of a 44-17 victory against the University of Maine Saturday at home.

"It was a play we saw all week in practice," Mitchell, a junior, said of Maine's defensive coverage on the play.

Ward completed 16 of 25 passes for three touchdowns and a career-high 273 yards while Mitchell earned a career high in reception yards and scored two touchdowns. The win increased Richmond's home winning streak to eight games, tied for the nation's sixth longest with this week's opponent, Villanova.

Mitchell has been somewhat overshadowed by the success of sophomore Kevin Grayson, the team's No. 1 receiver. But Saturday Grayson was double-covered most of the day, allowing Mitchell to take advantage.

"Jordan has just shown today that he is capable of breaking a tackle and running away from people," coach Mike London said. "Jordan does deserve a lot praise for this game. He did a terrific job, even blocking. He's been a complete player for us."

The emergence of Mitchell as another big-play receiver adds another weapon to an offense that has struggled to find consistency this season. The Spiders are ranked eighth in total offense in the Colonial Athletic Association and are fifth in scoring offense.

The score was 13-10 Richmond at halftime, but the Spiders began to move the ball during the second half.

The team had some trouble scoring touchdowns when near the goal line -- something London said the team needed to resolve.

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"We want touchdowns out of that area," he said. "We got penalties. We got pushed back. That's something we have to work on every week."

Mitchell was not the only receiver who had a notable performance. Redshirt freshman Tre Gray caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Ward with 12:07 left in the game for his first collegiate touchdown.

Backup quarterback Will Healy, a senior, played for part of the fourth quarter and scored on a 12-yard run to cap the Spiders' scoring for the game.

Meanwhile, junior kicker Andrew Howard ended a field goal slump, making three.

The Spider defense also remained strong, allowing the Black Bears only 44 rushing yards the entire game, part of 273 yards of total offense for the team. Richmond's rush defense is the best in the CAA and No. 10 in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Sophomore defensive back Justin Rogers returned another interception for a touchdown, giving the Spider defense nine interceptions for the season, which leads the NCAA. Rogers, last week's CAA Defensive Player of the Week, has returned an interception for a touchdown during each of the last two games.

The coaches were preparing the players by showing them plays the opposing team really liked to use, Rogers said.

"That [play] was one of them," he said. "Once I saw it I figured that if I could kind of stay on a low level and not let him see me I could bait the quarterback into throwing and he rushed and threw it."

The Spiders are now 3-1 overall and 2-0 against teams from the CAA. The team is ranked No. 1 in The Sports Network's poll and No. 2 in the FCS Coaches Poll. The Spiders are ranked No.1 for the first time since they were ranked in the top spot for five weeks during the 1985 season. That team lost two of its last three games and missed the playoffs. The Spiders have a 4-1 record as a No.1 team.

The team is not satisfied with the ranking.

"We've done nothing yet," London said. "We still have a lot of work to do. We look at this game as another opportunity."

The attitude at practices and meetings has not changed since the team learned that they were the No.1 team in the FCS.

"Our approach is going to be the same way it's always been and let everything outside the white lines take care of itself," London said.

Richmond will face another tough opponent when it plays No. 19 Villanova Saturday in Philadelphia. The team beat Villanova 35-27 last year during homecoming weekend.

The Spiders have received attention over the past few days, London said. But the team is not losing focus and London is not worried about the added pressure.

"I make the analogy that I've been a Richmond City police officer working in the high crime areas," London said. "You talk about a bull's eye on your back. To me, this is fun. I'm up for the challenge. I've always been that kind of individual and our team is going to take the same approach."

Contact Staff Writer Stephen Utz at stephen.utz@richmond.edu

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