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Spider football takes down William and Mary in spring season opener

<p>A darkened Robins stadium awaits in next use.</p>

A darkened Robins stadium awaits in next use.

The University of Richmond football team defeated William and Mary 21-14 on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Robins Stadium.

Redshirt senior quarterback Joe Mancuso threw for two touchdowns and 141 yards in the win. Redshirt sophomore running back Aaron Dykes caught one of those touchdowns while adding another on the ground. His 57 rushing yards made up one part of the Spiders’ three-headed rushing attack alongside Mancuso and sophomore running back Savon Smith, who registered 63 and 56 rushing yards respectively.

It was the first game of the season for the Spiders, who are playing a shortened spring season in 2021 after games in the fall were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. UR allowed fans, with a 1,000 person limit, to watch the game live. Although small in number, the student section brought admirable energy to the rivalry game being played under clear, sunny skies on Dickinson Field.

The game started slowly for both teams, with the Spiders going three-and-out on the team's first possession and the Tribe responding with a punt. UR got the ball back with 7:54 left in the first quarter, and Mancuso proceeded to lead the offense on a 12 play, 82-yard drive that culminated in a 6-yard touchdown pass to Dykes. After nearly intercepting William and Mary sophomore quarterback Hollis Mathis on the first play of their next drive, the first quarter ended with UR leading 7-0. 

That would remain the score throughout the second quarter, with neither team able to produce scoring drives. Mancuso busted off a 20-yard run with 10:56 left in the quarter as UR hoped to add to their lead. But the drive sputtered 10 plays later on a fourth down pitch to Dykes that was snuffed out at the W&M 30-yard line. The teams would trade underwhelming three-and-out drives until halftime with the score still 7-0.

Spiders head coach Russ Heusman felt like his team was not at their best on Saturday afternoon.

“There were a ton of mistakes that could normally cost you a football game. We made too many mistakes,” Huesman said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The second half proved to be much livelier than the first. After a William and Mary three-and-out to begin the half, UR took over in Tribe territory running a hurry-up offense. Two quick Mancuso passes to Dykes and redshirt sophomore receiver Isaac Brown got the Spiders into the red zone, before Dykes capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run, his second score of the day. UR would botch the extra point attempt, though, meaning the score sat at 13-0.

William and Mary responded quickly and in impressive fashion. Starting on his own 22-yard line, Mathis hit senior receiver Zach Burdick for a 29-yard gain across midfield. Later, on fourth down he found senior tight end Anthony Mague to enter the red zone. With 8:51 left in the third quarter, Mathis scrambled right out of the pocket and made a couple Spider defenders miss on his way to the end zone. The 19-yard touchdown run clawed the Tribe back into the game at 13-7.

The teams would trade three-and-outs again as the third quarter came to an end, but William and Mary would carry their scoring momentum into the fourth quarter. With 13:19 left to go in the game, Mathis hit Cole Blackman for 45 yards to take the Tribe to the 5-yard line. After three straight incompletions, the Tribe lined up for a field goal, but an offsides penalty on Richmond gave the offense the ball on the 2-yard line on fourth down. Tribe coach Mike London elected to go for the touchdown, and a Mathis completion to Mague proved it to be a smart decision. After the extra point, William and Mary took a 14-13 lead. London explained what went in to his decision during a pivotal moment in the game.

“When you’re down, you’re playing a rivalry game and you’re on the road…you trust your coaches, you trust your players and you also try to have some discernment about ‘Is this the time, is this the opportunity?’” London said. “It paid off for us in scoring the touchdown.”

UR and Mancuso would answer right back. After three Mancuso first down runs, Smith broke loose for an 18-yard run to the Tribe 6-yard line. Mancuso then hit graduate student tight end John Fitzgerald in the endzone for six points and the lead. A clutch two-point conversion catch by Smith gave the Spiders a more secure 21-14 lead with 6:20 left in the contest. Smith spoke about the importance of the go-ahead drive for his team.

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“I felt like after we saw [William and Mary go ahead in the fourth quarter], we knew we just had to bounce back and make some big plays,” Smith said. “We’re always going to be in it because we have that willpower to just keep going.”

After a quick three-and-out by W&M, UR got the ball back on their own 20-yard line with 4:33 to go. What followed was a deliberately slow, clock-churning drive by the Spiders bolstered by two vital first down runs by Smith to ice the game. Mancuso would kneel out the clock on his own 46-yard line, sealing a 21-14 win. Huesman said he was proud of how his team closed out the win.

“We haven’t done that a lot since I’ve been here,” Huesman said. “When I told [the players] what I was most proud of the football team today, it was to send our offense out there and know you gotta get two first downs and the game’s over, and they got it done.” 

“[I’m] proud of the guys.”

The win evens up the famous Capital Cup battle between UR and William and Mary at 63-63-5 all-time. It is the first time the Spiders have beaten the Tribe since November 2018. The teams will meet again for the 132nd edition next month in Williamsburg.

The Spiders play next at Elon College on next Saturday, Feb. 13.

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