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FCS Recap: Richmond Miracle Drive StoneWalls Northern Iowa 21-20
Down 20-7 going into the fourth quarter, it felt like an eon since Richmond wideout Kevin Grayson ’shushed’ the loud UNI-Dome crowd after his 40 yard touchdown reception from quarterback Eric Ward gave the Spiders an early 7-3 lead.
But in two critical fourth-quarter drives, Richmond pulled out a most unlikely last-gasp win, scoring two touchdowns - including the final dagger to the Panthers with only 14 seconds left in the game - to give the Spiders a 21-20 victory.
There’s no sweeter sound than the home crowd’s silence after a dramatic win. And just like Montana last night, the Spiders would also enjoy the silence of a near-sellout crowd as they celebrated their advancement to next weekend’s championship game on Northern Iowa’s home field.
After a first half where the only touchdown was Grayson’s scoring grab on a flea-flicker play, Northern Iowa came out strong to start the second half. A big three-and-out stand by the Panther defense was followed by a seven play, 68 yard drive by the offense to give that gave Northern Iowa their second lead of the game. The four yard touchdown pass from quarterback Pat Grace to tight end Ryan Mahaffey made it 10-7 in favor of Northern Iowa, while a Richmond fumble on the next drive set up Grace’s second touchdown pass on the afternoon - a ten yard strike to wideout Jarred Herring to make it 17-7.
When kicker Billy Halgren added a 25 yard field goal late in the 3rd quarter to make the score 20-7, it seemed like Northern Iowas was in complete control.
But the Spiders didn’t let their third quarter struggles keep them down.
Richmond quarterback Eric Ward proceeded to, in effect, carry the Spiders on his shoulders in the final stanza. In the opening drive of the 4th quarter, Ward went four for six passing for 52 yards, and ended the drive with a one yard touchdown sneak to help bring the score to 20-14.
On the next offensive drive for UNI after Spider defensive lineman Sherman Logan tackled Grace for a big four yard loss on second down, Grace’s third down incompletion gave the Spiders the ball back a chance to go ahead with 7:58 to play. But it seemed like it might be the Panthers’ time to shine after Richmond’s drive stalled at the UNI 42. Panther linebacker Josh Mahoney helped stop Spider running back Josh Vaughn just short of the sticks on 4th-and-one.
The Spiders then had to stop Northern Iowa, burn their timeouts, and hope they could prevent them from getting a first down. Linebacker Patrick Weldon helped the defense do just that, stuffing Northern Iowa’s offense on two consecutive running plays. When defensive lineman Jonathan Ashe stopped Grace on third down, the Spider offense knew they would have a shot.
With the hostile roar of the home crowd echoing through the UNI-Dome, Ward was collected as he lined up on offense. While some quarterbacks might be rattled, Ward was clearly in control and ready to make Spider history.
Ward cooly hit wideout Donte Boston for an 11 yard gain and spiked the ball at the UNI 34 to stop the clock. On 3rd down, he would find Boston over the middle for an eight yard gain. On 4th and two - the season, and a chance at a championship on the line - he found fullback Shawn White at the sticks for a four yard gain to keep the drive alive.
Ward would complete four straight passes on the drive - the final one to tight end Joe Stewart for a 13 yard scoring strike - to complete the magical comeback, and put Richmond in their first-ever Championship final. Ward finished the afternoon 28 of 35 passing for 280 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, linebacker Michael Ireland would lead the Spiders with 11 tackles, along with teammate Derek Hatcher.
For the Panthers, their heroic defense was led by linebackers Jamar Thompson and Josh Mahoney, with 20 and 13 tackles respectively. Quarterback Pat Grace would end with 224 yards passing at two touchdowns.
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In the other FCS game on Saturday, the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game, Grambling claimed the 2008 SWAC Football Title by defeating Jackson State 41-9.
Ahead 13-0 starting the second half on two touchdown passes by Grambling quarterback Greg Dillon, one to Kiare Thompson for a five-yard score and a 39-yarder to Dante Cheek, Dillon would pass (a seven-yarder to Thompson) and run for another couple scores while the Tigers outgunned Jackson State 21-9 in the third quarter. Punctuating the points was a 91 yard kickoff return touchdown by David Stuckman.
Jackson State kicker Eric Perri got the Tigers on the board early in the third with a 42 yard field goal. They would tack on another score with a 66 yard Michael Mosely to Carlos Everett touchdown pass.
The scoring ended in the fourth quarter when Grambling’s Kenneth Anio snared an interception and took it 85 yards to the house with three minutes left.
Dillon finished the game 13-of-19 passing for 145 and three touchdowns while rushing 13 times for 32 yards and a score. Frank Warren led GSU with 10 carries for 89 yards while Cornelius Walker had 15 carries for 33 yards. Nick Lewis caught five passes for 77 yards while Terrance Dunn had four catches for 23 yards. Keefe Hall and Jeffery Jack each had eight tackles while Defensive MVP Christian Anthony had seven tackles, two sacks, and a pass breakup.
For Jackson State, Everett had three catches for 93 yards and a score while Keenan Tillman finished with three catches for 30 yards. Starting QB Trae Rutland completed 7-of-15 passes for 90 yards before coming out of the game. Mosley in relief completed three passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. Marcus Jamison, Marcellus Speaks and Anthony Atkins each had seven tackles for JSU.
Grambling State finished the season 11-2 and an undefeated mark in conference play.