DURHAM, N.C. -- Last December, the University of Richmond football team proved it could beat any team in the Football Championship Subdivision. Last night, it proved it could do more than that.
Richmond defeated Duke University 24-16 in Durham, N.C., as it began the defense of its 2008 FCS National Championship in front of 33,311 fans, the largest crowd at Duke since 2000.
"The effort was tremendous," Richmond head coach Mike London said of his team. "It looked like in the third and fourth quarter we were in better shape than they were."
With the win, Richmond's winning streak dating back to last season extended to 10 games, the longest since the 1972-73 season.
Richmond opened the scoring on special teams when junior running back Tyler Kirchoff blocked a Duke punt attempt early during the first quarter. Junior wide receiver Jonathan Mayfield recovered the fumble and returned it five yards to the end zone to give Richmond a 7-0 lead with 8:45 to go during the first quarter.
"Our punt return scheme is meant to bring a lot of pressure," Kirchoff said. "All week we had been talking about how much we wanted to block a kick and we knew that it was definitely an attainable goal."
Duke's first points of the game came after a Richmond special teams miscue. Sophomore long snapper Colin Pehanick snapped the ball over senior punter Brian Radford's head and through the end zone for a safety. It was the first safety allowed by Richmond since 2000.
Richmond responded to the mistake on its next possession, driving 80 yards in 6 minutes and 56 seconds for a touchdown. Senior running back Justin Forte capped off the drive -- which included a pass from junior wide receiver Kevin Grayson to senior quarterback Eric Ward and a 4th-and-1 conversion by Kirchoff -- on a two-yard touchdown run to give Richmond a 14-2 lead.
But Duke wasted no time before it answered Richmond's second score. Senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis completed a 54-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Johnny Williams on the team's next possession for a touchdown to bring Duke within 5 points once again.
After a scoreless third quarter, Richmond used another long drive to take a commanding 21-9 lead. The Spiders used another 6 minute and 56 second drive to go 83 yards in 12 plays before Kirchoff scored on a one-yard touchdown run.
On Duke's next possession, the Blue Devils converted on two third-and-longs, but it wasn't enough. On 4th-and-7, Richmond pressured Lewis and forced an incompletion, giving Richmond the ball back with the lead and only a few minutes left to play.
Richmond senior kicker Andrew Howard converted his only field goal attempt of the game, a 45-yarder with 4:16 remaining, to give Richmond a 24-9 lead.
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Facing a 15-point deficit with only four minutes left, Duke drove down the field and kept the game close, scoring on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Lewis to junior wide receiver Austin Kelly with 2:13 remaining.
With only one timeout left, Duke was forced to attempt an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. The ball bounced directly to Richmond's Derek Hatcher, who recovered the ball and sealed the victory for the Spiders.
Though his numbers were not remarkable, Ward led the Spiders to the victory with some key rushes and smart decision-making. He finished 12 of 23, passing for 143 yards, and moved into second on Richmond's all-time passing yards list.
"Eric carried the team today," senior right tackle Mike Silva said. "He's on top of his game and he knows how to control this team."
Run defense also helped the Spiders, who allowed Duke to gain only 19 yards on the ground during the game.
"We as a defense know that it will take a great running game to beat us," said junior defensive lineman Martin Parker, who had six tackles and a quarterback sack during the game. "We put a lot of effort and pride into making sure we are in our right gaps, running to the ball and making the tackles."
Richmond will try to continue its winning streak at at 3:30 p.m. next Saturday when it takes on the University of Delaware in Newark, Del.
Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org
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