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Richmond QB Ward Is Unflinching Leader
For the FCS championship The University of Richmond Spiders were playing inside a dome where the noise was at such a level that four of the offensive linemen knew when to move only by watching the center snap the ball to the quarterback.
The Spiders trailed by 13 points Saturday in a hostile and intimidating environment at Northern Iowa in the Football Championship Subdivision game semifinals.
Spiders quarterback Eric Ward gathered his teammates around him as they prepared to go onto the field in the fourth quarter.
“He told us, ‘I’m not scared of this,’” UR offensive lineman Matt McCracken said. “He said, ‘We’ve been here before. I want everyone to look in my eyes right now. I’m not scared.’
“That was the turning point in the game. That’s when the offense settled down. Eric is one of those guys who, when he says something, everybody listens.”
It was not as if a giant weight had been lifted from the backs of the Spiders. None of their players stepped on the field and leapt over a building in a single bound. Ward didn’t rip off his jersey and reveal a large “S.”
The Spiders just played better.
A team can compensate for weaknesses at some positions. But there is no hiding a weakness at quarterback. No offense works unless the quarterback believes in himself and produces under pressure.
When he does, that belief and success permeates the entire team.
The Spiders will play in the FCS championship game Friday night against Montana, in Chattanooga, Tenn., in large part because of their redshirt junior quarterback’s confidence and poise.
“When the highs are high, he doesn’t get too high,” said Richmond coach Mike London. “When the lows are low, he doesn’t get too low.
“When a lot of things are happening, when opposing players are talking trash to him, he doesn’t listen. He focuses on the task at hand: ‘What routes are my receivers running, what are my progressions?’ His ability to do that is unique.”
Ward says he can’t remember the last time he felt nervous or anxious. If he wasn’t nervous Saturday at Northern Iowa, he won’t get nervous on any football field.
“I’ve been playing quarterback since I was about 6 years old,” Ward said. “I’ve been in a lot of games where it came down to making the last play.
“In this past game, I was on the sidelines, waiting for that last drive. I was telling myself that somebody’s going to have to make a play. Why not me?”
The Spiders had the ball on their 38-yard line with 1:44 left in the game. They had no timeouts and trailed 20-14. With 14 seconds left in the game, Ward threw the game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Joe Stewart.
Not a bad finish for a young man not always respected for his physical prowess.
“He has more athletic ability and a better arm than most people think,” said Mike Faragalli, the Spiders’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “Watch him play, and you’ll see. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see he’s good. We know how good he is.”
His teammates also know he is one of them, not one who puts himself above them. And that matters. A lot.
In an attempt to pin down just what makes Ward nervous, he was asked if the one thing that makes almost all men anxious, asking a woman for a date, affects him.
“Yeah,” he said, obviously attempting to be accommodating instead of completely honest.
Then he said, “Well, no.”
Then he laughed. A teammate, Donté Boston, asked why Ward was laughing.
Ward repeated the question he had just fielded, and Boston nodded toward Ward and said, “See that face? I’d be nervous with a face like that.”
Ward laughed, then said to Boston, “Get out of here.”
“I get nervous over things I can’t control, like going to the doctor for a check-up,” Ward said. “A football game, I think I have control over that.”
Indications are, he thinks correctly.
UR’s Ward is unflinching leader
Staff Report, The Richmond Times-Dispatch
Photo Credit: Dean Hoffmeyer/The Richmond Times-Dispatch