The Collegian
Sunday, January 29, 2023

Spiders lose close game in second round of FCS playoffs

<p>Redshirt senior running back Milan Howard runs while being tackled by a California State University, Sacramento player at the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs on Dec. 3. Photo courtesy of Richmond Athletics.</p>

Redshirt senior running back Milan Howard runs while being tackled by a California State University, Sacramento player at the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs on Dec. 3. Photo courtesy of Richmond Athletics.

The University of Richmond football team lost to California State University, Sacramento 38-31 in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs on Dec. 3. 

With this loss, UR finished its 2022 campaign 9-4, with a 6-2 Colonial Athletic Association conference record. 

After a shutout win against Davidson College in the first round of the playoffs, the Spiders traveled to California to take on the Hornets in the two programs’ first ever matchup and UR’s first ever game played in the state. 

The first drive of the game ended in a three-and-out for the Spiders after graduate quarterback Reece Udinski was sacked by the Hornets’ defense, which led to a fumble that stayed with UR, but made the down 4th and 12. 

On the Spiders’ first defensive possession, the team gave up the first score of the game, showing the Hornets’ early push. 

But, on UR’s next offensive possession, the Spiders tied the game with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Udinksi to redshirt sophomore receiver Jasiah Williams. 

From there, the momentum swung in UR’s favor. The Spiders forced a three-and-out defensively. 

Then, on the offensive end, UR marched down the field all the way into the endzone, backed by a chunk run of 43 yards from redshirt junior running back Savon Smith, which brought the Spiders to the 26 yard-line.

Smith carried the ball in for the touchdown, which gave the Spiders a 14-7 lead over a second-seeded Hornets team heading into the second quarter. 

The Spiders held onto momentum on the team’s next possession. While Sacramento State did convert on a fourth down during the possession, the Hornets attempted a second fourth down conversion and failed to convert, giving the Spiders the ball after a turnover on downs.

This allowed the Spiders to score again after going for it on fourth down themselves and soon after ending up in the endzone. Udinski hit graduate receiver Leroy Henley for a 24-yard touchdown, making the score 21-7 with 10:43 to go in the first half. 

The Spiders did not score the rest of the half. Instead, the team punted twice and allowed a Hornet field goal and touchdown, which brought the score to 21-17 as the second quarter finished. 

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On the Hornets’ final possession of the half — which yielded a touchdown — there was a play that might have given UR a more substantial lead heading into the break. 

A Hornets receiver appeared to catch the ball and fumble it after redshirt senior defensive back Aaron Banks made a big hit. Banks picked up the ball and ran to the other end of the field all the way to the endzone, but the play was ultimately ruled an incompletion. 

To start the second half, the Hornets received the kickoff. 

Much to the Spiders’ chagrin, Sacramento State returned the kick for a touchdown, putting the Hornets up three points 15 seconds into the third quarter. 

On the team’s next drive, UR answered with a field goal which tied the game up 24-24. 

The rest of the game proved to be back-and-forth.

After the touchdown, the Spiders forced a Hornets turnover on downs in the red zone. This gave the Spiders an opportunity to retake the lead. 

After a pass interference call that gave the Spiders a first down and after redshirt senior Aaron Dykes — who ran for a career-high 109 yards on the day — led the way down the field, Udinski found Henley in the endzone again. That was Henley’s second touchdown of the day. 

With the touchdown pass, Udinski passed Kyle Lauletta, ‘17, for the most touchdowns thrown in a season by a quarterback in UR history.

With 4:53 left to go in the third quarter and a 31-24 lead, the Spiders’ chances of making it to the FCS quarterfinals looked promising. 

After the touchdown, redshirt senior defensive back Tyrek Funderburk intercepted Sacramento State’s quarterback’s pass on the Spider’s next defensive drive. However, Funderburk was marked down at the one yard-line, putting UR in a tough situation so close to the team’s own endzone.

The unfortunate field position forced a Spiders three-and-out. But after the Hornets’ next failed possession, UR regained possession of the football again. 

However, the rainy weather would play a factor. On the first play of the Spiders’ next possession, Udinski lost control of the ball, resulting in a fumble that the Hornets got hold of. 

But, Funderburk would make a big play again, intercepting his second pass of the game and fourth of the season, which gave UR the ball back. 

UR could not capitalize, though, and had to punt the ball again.

From there, the Hornets tied the game. 

The Spiders had to punt again, but redshirt Aamir Hall intercepted the Hornets for Sacramento State’s third turnover of the game, giving the Spiders another chance to pull ahead.

Ultimately, though, a missed field-goal attempt from redshirt junior kicker Jake Larson, a punt and finally, on the Spiders’ last effort to try to tie the game, a Udinski interception, dashed UR’s hopes of a playoff win over the undefeated Hornets. 

The Spiders finished the regular season with five players on the All-CAA first team, two players on the All-CAA second team and four players on the All-CAA third team. UR also made its first appearance in the FCS playoffs since 2016. 

UR also had four wide receivers catch 50 or more passes on the season. 

Williams finished with 82 receptions for 609 yards and four touchdowns; graduate receiver Jakob Herres finished with 77 receptions for 958 yards and six touchdowns; Henley finished with 73 receptions for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns; redshirt sophomore Nick DeGennaro had 51 receptions for 522 yards and one touchdown. 

Last season, the Spiders finished 6-5 overall with just a 4-4 conference record. 

But, with help from transfers Udinski, Herres and DeGennaro, a powerful defensive unit led by redshirt junior linebacker Tristan Wheeler, redshirt junior defensive lineman Marlem Louis and redshirt senior linebacker Philip O’Connor and a strong rushing attack throughout the season from Dykes and Smith, the Spiders finished with three more wins than in 2021. 

UR’s six-year playoff drought also came to an end. 

Before the team traveled to Sacramento, UR head coach Russ Huesman said in a press conference on Nov. 30 that he felt great for the players who had been a part of the program for a while and who had not gotten to go to the playoffs until this point.

“They believe in themselves,” Huesman said. “They believe they had a good football team, they believed we could be a playoff team, and they played like it this year.” 

Contact sports writer Jimmy James at jimmy.james@richmond.edu.

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