The University of Richmond football team has set a number of program records this season, but on Friday it could win something no team in school history has -- a national championship.
"We weren't very successful when I got here and to have this happening," senior defensive end Lawrence Sidbury Jr. said, "I couldn't ask for anything else."
Richmond has improved its record to 12-3 by beating three conference champions during the playoffs: Eastern Kentucky University, second-seeded Appalachian State University and the third-seeded University of Northern Iowa.
Richmond will play the University of Montana, the No. 4 seed with a 14-1 record, at 8 p.m. on Friday at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn. Montana beat James Madison University, the No. 1 seed, last Friday during the first semifinal game.
"They don't make a whole lot of mistakes," coach Mike London said. "They're in the right place at the right time and in good position, and that's a mark of a well-coached team."
The teams have only met once before, a 2000 quarterfinal game at Montana, which the Grizzlies won 34-20. Montana advanced to the national championship and lost to Georgia Southern University, but the Grizzlies have won two national titles, against Marshall University in 1995 and Furman University in 2001.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Montana," London said. "They look like the Green Bay Packers. They're in the championship game and they've been there before so to be the champion you've got to beat the champ."
Montana also played in the 2004 championship, when it lost to James Madison University. Montana's 19-overall and 16-straight playoff berths are FCS records, and the Grizzlies are 27-15 in their playoff games.
"We're a program trying to be in the final games like they've been in the past," London said. "You won't hear any trash-talking from us. All you have to do is watch the tape and watch their body of work this season and 14-1 speaks for itself."
Richmond now has seven overall and two-straight playoff appearances, with an 8-6 record in its playoff games. The Spiders had never played in a semifinal game until last year's loss to Appalachian State. The 2007 season was also its first with 11 wins, and the 2008 team's semifinal win against Northern Iowa set the program record with 12 wins.
Sidbury said the team was well-coached and had had success this season, but was never arrogant about its accomplishments.
"We have a quiet confidence about ourselves," Sidbury said. "We don't give people bulletin-board material. We don't boast about what we can do. We just come out and prepare and play the game to the best of our abilities."
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Richmond has now won eight-straight games, and has not won nine-straight since 1998. The team's last loss was to James Madison on Oct. 11, when the Dukes scored 15 points during the last minute to top the Spiders 38-31.
"That was a tough loss, but it taught us more than anything else that you've got to play the whole game," London said. "You've got to give maximum effort.
"That game was kind of a wake-up call to the fact that if any of the players are going to realize any goals or dreams that they may have set forth for the season then from that point on we're going to have to get it done."
Sidbury said the team tried to be as perfect as possible. At this point in the playoffs, there are no bad teams, and he said all the games would be close.
"A football game's up and down and everything's not going to go perfect for you in a football game," Sidbury said. "You have to have the same desire to play every play 100 percent. You should play your plays in the fourth quarter as if it's the first quarter."
Richmond learned from its mistakes against James Madison during last week's game when it overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Northern Iowa 21-20.
"We never stopped competing throughout the game, which made it more special," Sidbury said. "I'm happy to have an opportunity to continue playing, especially in a national championship."
Now the Spiders will face Montana, which relies more on passing (averaging 214.9 yards per game) than rushing (averaging 184.2 yards per game). Richmond tends to alternate between the two, averaging 185.6 rushing and 183.9 passing yards per game.
Richmond had to rely on some new receivers last week because sophomore wide receiver Kevin Grayson, a first-team All-Conference selection, was injured at the end of the first half of the Northern Iowa game. London said Grayson would make the trip to Chattanooga with the team on Tuesday night.
"At this point everybody's nicked and bruised but this is it," London said. "This is the game. He probably could have maybe went back in again and played but just decided at the point that we didn't need to put him in there."
Even if Grayson isn't fully healed for Friday's game, London said redshirt freshman wide receiver Donte Boston had done a great job in his place. London said he gave players such as Boston and senior fullback Shawn White chances last Saturday because it was going to take everybody to win that game.
"The guys that are backups, they want to play," London said. "Their parents want them to play. They know that you're just a play away so they prepare like they're going to have to play in a game."
One offensive backup has a particular reason to look forward to Saturday's game. Senior quarterback and co-captain Will Healy is from Chattanooga, which means he will end his college career in his hometown.
"I understand his dad's running for mayor so we might be wearing bumper stickers or stickers or something like that promoting that," London said. "Will's kind of the mayor around here, too, in Richmond. ... We'll see when we get up there. He says he knows all the good places to go."
Defensively, London said Richmond had already benefited from its backups when sophomore linebacker Tyler Sullivan was injured. Sophomore linebackers Patrick Weldon and Jordan Shoop took his place, and they have become a critical part of a defense that limits its opponents to 266.3 yards of total offense per game. Montana allows its opponents 331.1 yards of total offense per game.
The Richmond defense has set a single-season record for interceptions with 28. The Spiders forced 41 turnovers this season, which have led to 156 points, while giving up only 19 turnovers themselves.
"We thrive on defensively trying to play aggressive and trying to create turnovers," London said. "I think anyone would agree that defense wins championships."
Montana, which has forced 36 turnovers and lost 18, ranks eighth in the FCS turnover margin at 1.20. Richmond, which has a 1.47 turnover margin, ranks third.
"Coach London won't allow us to go through a whole practice without us going 100 percent," Sidbury said. "Coming into the game we know that we've done what's necessary to win a football game. Not saying that we're going to win ... we know that we're prepared."
Contact staff writer Barrett Neale at firstname.lastname@example.org
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