WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – The University of Richmond football team forced seven turnovers during its game Saturday afternoon at the College of William & Mary, but still needed overtime to assure its second-consecutive Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth.
The Spiders beat the Tribe 23-20 when junior kicker Andrew Howard made a 37-yard field goal in the first overtime period. The team will find out its opponent for the first round of the FCS playoffs Sunday night.
“It was a terrific football game,” Richmond coach Mike London said. “We’ve been involved with a game like that at our place [against James Madison] when we came out on the short end of the stick, but we hung in there and played hard and then came out on the other side this time.”
Richmond dominated the first half against William & Mary, intercepting four passes, forcing a fumble and allowing the Tribe to gain only 12 total yards.
Right guard Michael Silva opened the scoring for the Spiders with his first career touchdown when Richmond quarterback Eric Ward fumbled as he tried to reach the ball over the goal line during the first quarter. Silva recovered the ball in the end zone for the touchdown.
Richmond’s only other touchdown came on defense, when safety Derek Hatcher intercepted Tribe quarterback Jake Phillips’s pass and returned it 35 yards. With the return, Richmond set the single-season record for interception returns in a season, with four.
Hatcher’s interception was one of six for the Spiders during the game. Defensive back Justin Rogers had two, while linebacker Jordan Shoop, safety Mike Ireland and safety David Horton each had one.
Richmond added two field goals from Howard, one of which came with no time left in the second quarter, to take a 20-0 halftime lead.
“We played about as bad as we could in the first half,” William & Mary tight end Rob Varno said.
The Tribe scored for the first time in the third quarter on a 32-yard field goal by kicker Brian Pate, but entered the fourth quarter trailing 20-3.
Pate added another field goal early in the fourth quarter, but Richmond appeared to be in command, holding a 14-point lead with less than five minutes to play.
Tribe punt returner Derek Cox changed the momentum of the game by returning a punt 80 yards for a touchdown with 3:02 remaining in the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, William & Mary back-up quarterback R.J. Archer recovered the onside kick to give the Tribe possession with three minutes to play.
London said the team practiced onside kick recoveries regularly, but that William & Mary had executed perfectly.
“[Archer] went Shaquille O’Neal on us and got it,” he said.
As the momentum continued to shift in the Tribe’s favor, Phillips led a ten play, 59-yard drive in 2 minutes and 44 seconds, finishing with a one-yard touchdown run for the game-tying score with only 18 seconds left to play, forcing the game into overtime.
The Spiders won the overtime coin toss and elected to defend first. After holding the William & Mary offense to two yards on its first three downs, Richmond defensive end Sherman Logan blocked Pate’s 39-yard field goal attempt.
“I got a little push from the offensive tackle,” Logan said about the play, “but I was able to get skinny and get through there.”
Howard’s field goal from the right hash mark clinched the win for the Spiders, improving the team to 8-1 all-time in overtime games.
“You just gotta do what you practice,” Howard said of the game-winning kick. “I’ve never been the type to get really nervous and have that affect me.”
The biggest difference between the first half and the second was the turnovers, London said. Even though some of the turnovers didn’t lead to points, they allowed Richmond to control the clock and make the William & Mary defense work, he said.
Richmond finished the game with 236 total yards of offense, including 134 rushing yards for senior tailback Josh Vaughan, who ran for more than 100 yards for the fifth-straight game. Ward completed nine passes for 82 yards and threw one interception.
The win improved the team’s season record to 9-3 overall and 6-2 Colonial Athletic Association play. It also gave Richmond the I-64 trophy, awarded each year to the winner of the game between these two teams. This was the 118th time the two schools have played each other in football, making it the fourth oldest rivalry in college football.
Richmond senior fullback and co-captain John Crone left the game after the first half with a leg injury. His status for the playoffs was not immediately clear after the game.
The loss dropped William & Mary to 7-4 on the season and 5-3 in the CAA. The Tribe came into the game ranked 16th, but with the loss, it is unlikely that the team will earn a playoff spot.
Although the game was closer than the Spiders had expected at halftime, London said he was pleased that his team was able to close out the win.
“There was nothing schematically wrong,” London said about his team’s play during the second half. “I think we learned a lesson. We didn’t close out the James Madison game but we closed this one out. I think that’s a springboard to what’s ahead of us.”
The Spiders will now wait to see who they will face in the first round of the FCS playoffs, which begin next weekend. The FCS playoff selection show, during which 16 FCS teams will be given playoff berths, is Sunday at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.
“I’m excited about the opportunity for these guys to move on again and play in the playoffs,” London said. “You want to play in meaningful games at the end of the year. This was a big game for us and I think it solidifies us to be in another big game next week.”
London was proud to have led the team to the playoffs in his first year as head coach, he said. Even though he inherited a team that returned many of its players from last season’s playoff run, London emphasized that team chemistry has improved this season.
“Every year your team has to forge an identity,” he said. “Hopefully you can say this is a coach London team. A team that’s gonna play tough, hard and play with enthusiasm and excitement.”
Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org