The Collegian
Saturday, May 30, 2020

Richmond football earns playoff spot with last win

The Richmond Spiders played perhaps their most complete game all season at William & Mary, defeating the Tribe and earning a spot in the FCS playoffs for the first time under coach Danny Rocco.

The Spiders learned this morning that they would host Morgan State in the first round, and their reaction was one of pure excitement. A video from SpiderTV shows the team gathered in its meeting room. When the announcement was made, players rose to their feet and cheered -- some players stood on tables in celebration.

Richmond’s 34-20 victory Saturday night was characterized by the same desire and enthusiasm the Spiders showed Sunday morning. The team played well in all phases of the game, and was “pretty much error free,” Rocco told SpiderTV after the win.

The MVP award went to quarterback Michael Strauss, who looked as comfortable as he has all season on his way to 291 passing yards and two touchdowns. He also had his mobility back following his ankle injury, as he scrambled around the corner on one play and outran a defender to earn a first down. That was his only positive run in the game, but it proved that his ankle was healthy.

Strauss played a solid game, but the MVP could have been awarded to multiple other players as well. Seth Fisher was running through defenders with determination and authority all night, finishing with 123 yards and two touchdowns. Reggie Diggs was Strauss’ go-to receiver in the red zone, as he caught both receiving touchdowns of the game and finished with seven catches for 53 yards.

The offense was balanced, both between the passing and running games and among the receivers. The Spiders ran for 182 yards and threw for 291 yards. Strauss said he thought this balance was what allowed the offense to be so effective.

“[Being able] to be versatile and being able to run and pass just like that is just a complete team effort today,” the quarterback told SpiderTV. He also praised Fisher, his roommate, and said he “has a big heart and runs harder than anyone I have ever seen.”

The multi-dimensional offense definitely helped the Spiders win, but so did Strauss’ distribution of the ball in the passing game. He completed at least two passes to seven different receivers, which kept the defense on its toes and didn’t allow the Tribe to key on any single player.

The Spiders’ defense complemented the offense well, stopping the Tribe from building long drives and doing just enough to keep a lead for the Spiders through most of the second half. The Tribe offense earned just 80 yards rushing and 240 passing, and Richmond ended the game with an 11-minute advantage in possession time.

The most important – and surprising – stat for Richmond came in the turnover battle. The Spiders defense recovered two fumbles and caught an interception, while the offense did not come close to committing a turnover. William & Mary had been notoriously good at protecting the ball, but the Spiders looked as if they had focused on stripping the ball from runners and capitalizing on opportunities for interceptions.

Cornerback Ayo Ogunniyi caught the only interception of the game, playing tight defense and turning around to locate the ball and make the tough catch. “He kind of just threw it up there for grabs, and I was able to go up and get it at the highest point,” Ogunniyi said.

The Richmond defensive backs were vulnerable to the out-route all night, and that’s where the Tribe found most of its offensive success. Star receiver Tre McBride was particularly exploitative with this route, and he finished with eight catches for 134 yards.

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“They probably saw on film that we’ve been giving up out-routes a lot this year,” Ogunniyi said. “But at the end of the day we still got the outcome we wanted.”

With this win, the Spiders retain the Capitol Cup for the third year in a row. The Cup lives in the middle of the main football office, and it usually catches the attention of people who walk into the office.

Rocco was pleased with his team’s “complete” performance and felt that a loss would have been devastating. “We bounced back and did the things we had to do and positioned ourselves really well,” the coach said on SpiderTV.

The Spiders did just that, and they now have a home playoff game next Saturday.

Contact Sports Editor Charlie Broaddus at charlie.broaddus@richmond.edu

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