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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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Spiders lose chance at playoffs with loss to Maine

The beginning to the denouement of Richmond's season started with a Spider touchdown. For a season that started with such promise, it was a fitting way to go down.

After a touchdown run by Garrett Turner, which was set up by an interception by Cooper Taylor, kicker Wil Kamin's extra point was blocked - the second time that happened Saturday -- and returned for two points by Maine. What should have been a 23-7 game was instead made 22-9.

What should have been an innocuous play proved to be the difference in Maine's 23-22 victory Saturday evening at Robins Stadium, Richmond's fourth straight loss.

A season that started with an upset of Duke University will end with the Spiders missing the playoffs for the second time in a row. Richmond was perfect through its first three games, but in two of them, there were cracks.

Turnovers and kick coverage were the issues then. But they were corrected. And soon, new issues began to emerge.

Quarterback Aaron Corp began to face heavy pressure as his offensive line failed him. The defensive line became decimated by injuries and teams began to run against the Spiders, something that never happened in previous years.

Although those things were corrected for the most part by Saturday, it was the little things that kept Richmond from winning this one. Nothing stood out more than the two points earned off the blocked extra point.

"We got bailed out with that two points," Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. "It re-energized us."

Enough things went wrong for the Spiders during the fourth quarter to erase their 16-0 halftime lead. The Black Bears' up-tempo offense appeared to tire the Richmond defense, and it showed with them scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Part of the reason for the fatigue of Richmond's defense belongs to the Richmond offense. Out of the 343 yards of total offense gained by Richmond, just 122 came during the second half and the Black Bears held a five-minute edge in time of possession during the half.

Cosgrove decided at halftime to blitz Corp more often. That worked to the tune of four second-half sacks.

"We kind of risked some things because we did have to get some pressure on [Corp]," Cosgrove said. "We felt like if we let him stand back there, he would pick us apart."

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Richmond's postseason-free destiny was sealed by the fifth and final sack of Corp. Richmond had a glimmer of hope to take the lead, having a first down at Maine's 33 and 48 seconds left in the game. Instead of throwing the ball away, Corp took an 11-yard sack to take the Spiders out of field goal range. With no timeouts, he elected to spike the ball on second down to stop the clock, leaving Richmond 21 yards shy of a first down.

Third down resulted in an incomplete pass to Tre Gray, who earlier in the game set the school records for career catches and career receiving yards, and fourth down was an incomplete pass to Ben Edwards.

Ballgame over, season effectively over.

Four games into Colonial Athletic Association play, Richmond has four losses. Three of them have been by less than one score. All of the losses have been to teams ranked in the Top 25.

In a topsy-turvy CAA, where perennial bottom-dwellers Maine and Towson are leading the conference, anything is still possible. Richmond still has an opportunity to prove it belongs in the playoffs. Games to end the season against Delaware and William & Mary give the Spiders a chance to prove themselves.

"I still tell [the team], 'Hey, if we can win one, I think we can get on a roll and get going,' " Richmond interim coach Wayne Lineburg said. "This is a resilient group of guys."

The win over Duke still is a bright spot on the Spiders' resume. As Lineburg said, it gives them a better chance to make the 20-team playoffs than if it was over another FCS team.

Until the early-season major problems get stay resolved for a full game and the more recent minor lapses are eradicated, it won't matter if Richmond had beaten Louisiana State to start the season. Once again, there will be no playoffs for the Spiders.

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