Story and photo courtesy of Richmond Athletics
UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND, Va. - The University of Richmond Spiders football team knocked off the No. 2-ranked James Madison Dukes, 35-29, in front of a sold-out Robins Stadium on Saturday. With the victory, the Spiders improve to 5-3 on the season and to 3-2 in CAA conference play. With the loss, the Dukes fall to 5-2 on the year and to 3-1 in league action.
Sophomore QB Michael Strauss was fantastic for Richmond in his first career start, completing 27-of-43 passes for 271 yards and four touchdowns. WR Stephen Barnette had a career-day with nine catches for 144 yards, while TE Kevin Finney had a career-best three TD receptions in the win. FB Kendall Gaskins rushed for a career-high 106 yards on 21 carries, including a 40-yard touchdown.
Defensively, DB Aaron Roane had a career-high 14 tackles and a sack to lead the Spider defense, while LB Darius McMillan joined him in double figures with 10 stops. Defensive backs Reggie Barnette and Doug Howell each had an interception, while defensive linemen Kerry Wynn and Evan Kelly each had a sack.
After James Madison scored on their first possession of the game to take a 7-0 lead, the Spiders answered right back with a 13-play, 75-yard drive.
Making his first career start, Strauss was terrific on the drive, connecting with Barnette on four occasions. After DB Cooper Taylor ran the ball for a critical first down on fourth-and-1, Strauss hit Finney in the back of the end zone for a score. After a missed PAT, James Madison's lead was cut to one, 7-6.
After the teams exchanged field goals, it appeared as though James Madison would take a 10-9 lead in to the half, but Howell and the Spider defense had other ideas. With less than a minute left, JMU was attempting to cushion its lead when Howell picked off a Dukes' pass at midfield - his team-leading fourth interception of the season.
On the ensuing Spider drive, Strauss and the offense turned the interception into six points, as the sophomore quarterback connected with Barnette in the back of the end zone for a touchdown with just three second left in the half. At the break, Richmond took a 15-10 lead over James Madison into the locker room.
On their first possession of the second half, the Spiders added to their lead with another long, sustained drive. After a JMU punt netted three yards, Richmond needed just six plays to go 50 yards. The drive culminated with a four-yard TD pass, as Strauss hit Finney for the second time. Strauss' third touchdown toss of the game gave the Spiders a 22-10 lead over JMU with 11 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Richmond defense came up huge on the next Madison possession, stopping the Dukes on a fourth-and-1 to set up the Spider offense at the JMU 44-yard line. Six plays later, the Strauss and Finney show continued.
From eight yards out, Strauss threw the ball to WR Rashad Ponder who was unable to control the ball, deflecting the ball right to Finney for his third TD catch of the game. With 4:24 left in the in the third quarter, Richmond led James Madison, 28-10.
James Madison cut the Spider lead to 28-16 on a 1-yard Dae'Quan Scott run just over a minute later, however, and Richmond took a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Just like they had all game, the Spiders responded with a scoring drive, pushing their lead to 19, 35-16. Needing just six plays, Gaskins broke through a hole on the left side of the line, scampering 40 yards for his 10th touchdown of the season.
The Dukes showed some fight in their next two drives, putting up back-to-back touchdowns to cut the deficit to just six points, 35-29. After recovering an onsides-kick, Madison had one last drive to steal a win from Richmond.
The Spider defense played valiantly, however, and a last minute JMU heave into the end zone fell harmlessly to the ground as time ran out, securing the victory for Richmond.
The Richmond Spiders football team will be back in action in two weeks when it hosts the Rhode Island Rams on November 3 at Robins Stadium for Homecoming. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.