The University of Richmond football team has not been able to win close games this season before Saturday's 46-43 win at Delaware (7-4, 4-3). The Spiders had lost the five games that have been decided by seven points or fewer this season.
Richmond (5-6, 3-4 CAA) led Saturday's game by as much as 19 points in the second half and did not trail until Delaware running back Andrew Pierce scored on an 11-yard run with 45 seconds left, giving the Blue Hens a 43-39 lead.
The Spiders looked doomed to lose another close game, but Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss led a 75-yard drive that concluded with a three-yard touchdown reception by sophomore Reggie Diggs to give Richmond the victory.
"They brought that blitz on that last play," Strauss said, "and right when I saw them come, I knew I had that one-on-one on the slant."
Richmond defensive lineman Kerry Wynn said a lot of people could have written the Spiders off once they fell behind, but Strauss' ability to lead the offense on the game-winning drive said a lot about him.
Strauss led Richmond's offense, completing 35 of his 46 pass attempts for a school-record 543 yards and five touchdowns. Strauss' 24 passing touchdowns on the season is also a Richmond single-season record.
"He had his eyes down the field," head coach Danny Rocco said, "and when his eyes are down the field he releases the ball real quick. He got that that thing out of there and obviously made some plays."
Saturday marked the first time in program history that three separate receivers gained more than 100 receiving yards; junior Rashad Ponder had a career-high 175 receiving yards, redshirt-junior Stephen Barnette, who became the fourth Richmond receiver in school history to gain 1,000 receiving yards in a season, had 127 yards and freshman Brian Brown had a career-high 109 yards.
"Those receivers, they are the best in the business," Strauss said. "They are the best in the CAA, hands down."
While Richmond's passing offense starred Saturday, the Spiders running offense was strong as well. The Spiders gained 137 yards on the ground. Redshirt-sophomore Seth Fisher led all players with 74 rushing yards on 15 carries.
Strauss said the running game was crucial in setting up Richmond's play-action passing, which caused Delaware trouble in the second half.
Richmond's offense totaled 680 yards--its most in a game this season--despite playing without senior Ben Edwards, who suffered a leg injury early in the second quarter. The Spiders were 0-4 when Edwards, who will most likely miss Richmond's final game of the season, either had not played or missed most of a game this season coming into Saturday.
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"[Edwards] has been, no doubt, the leader of this team," Strauss said. "We know how much he wants it. When [Edwards] went down, our biggest thing was we were going to get this win for him."
Saturday's game gives Richmond a three-game winning streak. Before the streak, Richmond lost four straight games.
"Early in the year, we did not play at the level we needed to play at in some of those games," Rocco said.
Richmond raced out to a 22-3 lead in the game's first 20 minutes. The Spiders gained 303 yards in their opening drives, which resulted in three touchdowns and a red-zone interception. Delaware gained 45 yards on its opening four drives, with 32 of those yards coming on one-pass play.
The Blue Hens cut the Spiders' lead to 22-17, partially because of a blocked punt deep in Richmond territory, but Strauss connected with Brown for a 50-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds left in the half, giving the Spiders a 29-17 lead at halftime.
Richmond extended its lead to 36-17 midway through the third quarter on a 23-yard touchdown reception by redshirt-junior Hunter Westfall, but Delaware scored consecutive touchdowns and cut the Spiders' lead to five heading into the fourth quarter.
Rocco said third quarters have been Richmond's Achilles' heel this year, and the Spiders' play in Saturday's third quarter is what gave Delaware a chance to come back.
Sophomore Brandon Jordi kicked a 34-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and Delaware responded with a 9-play 69-yard touchdown drive, but missed its two-point conversion that would have tied the game.
With the 15,817 in attendance on their feet, the Blue Hens forced the Spiders to punt with 4:07 left. Delaware drove 72 yards on 11 plays and scored its go-ahead touchdown.
Richmond methodically moved 75 yards in seven plays to regain its lead. Delaware got the ball back with time for one play, but the Spiders defense knocked down the final pass.
Saturday's game most likely knocked Delaware, who came into the game ranked 21st in the FCS, out of contention to make the postseason.
Contact staff writer Jack Nicholson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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