Saturday, August 31, 2013

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Spiders Roll in Season Opener over VMI, Mother Nature....

Even a storm that never made Robins Stadium could stop the Richmond Spiders.

Extending their winning streak to five games going back to 2012, a year that ended miserably when they were not awarded a playoff spot, Richmond thumped VMI 34-0 in the 2013 season opener for both teams. It's the first season-opening shutout for the Spiders since a 13-0 win over Duke in 2006, and, incredibly, the 33rd season-opening shutout in school history.

"It was an unusual and unique night," said UR head coach Danny Rocco. "We played some pretty dominating football, but we just didn't have the rhythm we need offensively."

That sounds like a contradiction when looking at statistics. The Spiders had 539 total yards of offense, 226 on the ground. But Rocco was mindful of how, after an opening drive touchdown, his offense blew multiple opportunities to take a big lead in the first quarter. Passes from quarterback Michael Strauss (23-of-36, 265 yards, 3 touchdowns) missed their mark twice when receivers broke open in the corner of the end zone. Other similar events occurred.

"Man, this truly is a game of inches," senior co-captain wide receiver Ben Edwards said. "An arm stretched out more here or a pass not short-armed there. You never know. We should have had a much bigger lead early on."

The Spiders were able to make up for it in the last three minutes of the first half. Strauss found Edwards for a short pass on the far sideline. Edwards made a VMI defender miss badly, and he was off to the races for a 59-yard touchdown. Then, VMI quarterback Eric Kordenbrock's pass with 1:26 left was tipped into the air and grabbed by linebacker Walt Sparks, giving Strauss and company the ball at the Keydet 32.

The Spiders took full advantage, scoring on a TD strike from Strauss to Stephan Barnette from 12 yards with :36 left before halftime. It was 21-0 at locker room time.

That time was extended when, just before the second half kickoff, both teams were sent back in and fans asked to depart for cover as a lightning delay began. The same storm that delayed the UVA/BYU game by two hours, nine minutes, would delay this game for over an hour, even though the storm itself moved well south of Robins Stadium.

When asked by HCS about how his staff handled the delay, Rocco spoke at length about the importance of communication and conditioning in such a situation.

"First, I make sure I communicate with the players. They want to know what's happening. They deserve to know. I would walk into and out of the players area, keeping them posted. We had hydration, food for the players. I thought we came out well afterwards. But VMI is a well-regimented program. I knew they would come out of it (the delay) very well."

The Keydets had their opportunities, but penalties and turnovers, the achilles heels of any team, stopped their offense at any and every turn. The short-circuiting of their own fate is encapsuled in one statistic: Richmond was 4-of-5 in red zone opportunities. VMI never had one.

"It was just a plain whuppin," said VMI head coach Sparky Woods.

VMI's home opener is next Saturday against Glenville State. Meanwhile, the Spiders step up. Significantly. They go to Raleigh in six days to battle NC State.

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Henrico County players were featured on the Robins Stadium turf.

Hermitage grad, UR freshman wide receiver Brian Brown, had three receptions for 18 yards in his Spiders debut, while, across the way, Mills Godwin grad, freshman Dane Forlines, returned two kickoffs for 18 and 21 yards respectively, while catching two passes for 20 yards.

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