Richmond breaks seven-game winning streak

Nick Fattori

With an opportunity to solidify themselves as one of the top contenders for the FCS national title the #4/3 Wildcats dropped a hard-fought battle on the road against the #14/13 Richmond Spiders, 10-9. The loss now gives both teams an identical 7-2 (4-1) record on the season.

“Offensively that was our worst effort [of the season],” Head Coach Andy Talley said. “Our guys know it. We’ve played great for eight straight games and we had our one bad game…This was a wake-up call.” 

The difference in the game came midway through the third quarter, when freshman kicker Steve Weyler missed his fourth extra point of the season after junior quarterback John Robertson found freshman Lincoln Collins for a five yard score. This put the Wildcats up 9-3, but not for long.

The Spiders responded immediately, and senior quarterback Michael Rocco orchestrated a six play, 65 yard drive in less than two minutes, capped off by his 15 yard run for a touchdown to give richmond a 10-9 lead. This ultimately would be the decider as neither team scored over the last 21 minutes of the game.

“I thought it was a signature win for our season,” Richmond Head Coach Danny Rocco said. “I think our players really believe we would find a way to win today.  Fortunately, we got a couple breaks and were able to finish it off.”

This game was ugly on the offensive side of the ball, as the teams combined for seven turnovers, six of those coming in the opening stanza. Each team muffed a punt and turned the ball over deep inside the other’s red zone.

“We missed opportunities to make plays and that started with me,” Robertson said. “If you want to win against a good team you have to make plays when they are in front of you. I didn’t make those plays and we missed a bunch of chances.”

With all the turnovers in the game, it was up to both team’s defenses to make up for the lack of any offensive cohesion. Other than a few long completions from Rocco, the ’Cats defense stymied the Spiders’ potent offense.

Junior safety Cameron McCurry led the Villanova defense on the day with 15 tackles, while junior linebacker Don Cherry chipped in with six and a pick.

However, the Richmond defense outshined ‘Nova’s. It held the eighth best offense in the country to only 253 total yards on Saturday, which was over 240 yards less than their average.

“Their [Richmond] front five is good,” Talley said. “They pressured John [Robertson] much sooner than he would’ve liked to throw…it was a day defenses were dominating, which is something you don’t see anymore…it was an old-fashioned heavyweight fight.” 

Robertson’s Walter Payton Award stock took a major hit during the game. Robertson only managed to complete 12-of-25 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown, while adding 65 yards on 22 carries. He also threw only his second pick of the season, when he was intercepted in the end zone late in the first quarter.

“John has had eight phenomenal games, but he was humbled a little bit Saturday,” Talley said. “He has escaped a lot of bad offensive plays, but wasn’t able to do it Saturday…that was a team ready to corral him and that’s what they did.” 

Villanova’s offensive line also took a major hit during the game. All-CAA performer, senior center Ross Hall, left the game early in the third quarter and did not return. He was seen on the sideline in extreme pain and losing him long-term would be detrimental to not only ‘Nova’s offensive line, but the offense as a whole.

“Without Ross [Hall] there, the offensive line is losing a huge pick-me-up,” Talley said. “He is a grisly veteran and it hurt a little bit, but offensively as a team didn’t have our best game.” 

On the other side of the ball, Rocco’s arm carried Richmond to the win. Although he threw two interceptions on the day, he also threw for 314 yards and rushed for a touchdown. He connected with sophomore wide receiver Brian Brown eight times for 119 yards. He was by far his favorite receiver on the day, and came up clutch multiple times when the Spiders needed it the most.