Richmond’s Football Championship Subdivision school held its ground with a Virginia team that was sometimes sloppy, but the Spiders (0-1, 0-0 CAA) couldn’t spoil coach Tony Elliot’s debut on Saturday afternoon. Richmond took an early lead, but a buzzing Virginia (1-0, 0-0 ACC) offense scored touchdowns on four straight possessions in the first half to regain the lead. The Cavaliers then survived a lackluster third quarter and took care of business in the fourth to earn their first win of the season.
Before the game, Scott Stadium shuddered as new Cavalier Julie Caruccio brought the Cavaliers onto the field to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck for the first time. Senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong led the orange jerseys onto the field and successfully called the coin toss that deferred the ball to Richmond.
The teams traded punts on their first possessions of the season. On his second possession, Richmond quarterback Reece Udinski began working the Cavaliers’ secondary with passing passes and tying plays and eventually ended the 11-play, four-minute drive with a touchdown when junior running back Savon Smith came across the line for eight yards and six. points.
The Cavaliers only needed two plays to respond. Starting from his own 20-yard line, Armstrong found junior wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks for a few yards plus a face mask penalty, then threw a strike to towering junior wide receiver Lavel Davis for a 56-yard touchdown.
For the remainder of the first quarter, both teams attempted to establish a running game, with varying degrees of success. Richmond went 3-and-out again, and Virginia’s first few runs were very little gain before senior running back Perris Jones finally got a pair of big carries, the second of which was a touchdown.
Virginia’s defense hardened again and quickly returned the ball to the offense. Four plays into the next drive, Armstrong shoved the ball into Jones’s stomach, pulled it back at the last second, and sliced down the right sideline for a 64-yard touchdown that put Virginia up 21-7. This run also made Armstrong Virginia’s all-time leader in total offense.
Richmond, though down, refused to turn around. They went back to a steady diet of runs from Smith and senior running back Aaron Dykes and quick passes from Udinski to move the ball into field goal range, where they picked up three points.
The Cavaliers got the ball back and continued to give the Spiders a heavy dose of Jones. A holding call against Richmond extended the drive and eventually led to a Virginia touchdown for junior running back Mike Hollins, who recovered his own fumble in the end zone.
After Virginia forced a turnover on downs in their own territory, Elliott elected to run out time, leading both sides into the halftime break.
Virginia got an immediate first down to start the second half, but Wicks then caught a pass and fumbled the ball straight into the arms of Richmond senior safety Aaron Banks.
Richmond started the march at the Cavaliers’ 34-yard line and leaned on Smith and Dykes to get them deeper into the red zone. On third-and-goal of five, Udinski found Smith on an angled route and the running back absorbed a monstrous hit and hung on to score, cutting Virginia’s lead to 11.
Virginia took over but immediately handed Richmond another shortstop when a rushing Armstrong threw a direct pass into Banks’s arms for another turnover. However, the Spiders failed to capitalize, with Udinski throwing a deep pass that was nearly intercepted by junior cornerback Fentrell Cypress, followed by junior kicker Jake Larson missing a 48-yard field goal.
The Cavaliers’ sloppy play continued on the next drive with multiple dropped passes and a botched snap culminating in a punt that was knocked down inside the Richmond three-yard line.
The Spiders quickly worked their way out of the poor field position. A Virginia interception was nullified by a penalty, immediately followed by another big run by Smith to grab the ball near midfield. Richmond’s quick passes and tail-back shots from the no-huddle were clearly beginning to wear on the Virginia defense, which had been out of the heat for most of the third quarter. However, the Cavaliers mustered enough energy to pack Dykes on back-to-back plays to force a turnover on opportunities and turn the momentum in their favor.
Armstrong began the fourth quarter by working the offense in the red zone, and on third-and-five from the 11th, Armstrong dropped back to avoid a blitzer and dropped a rainbow of a pass to a wide-open Jones for the touchdown.
After three consecutive punts, Virginia began to time out, bringing Jones over 100 yards that day. After passing the ball down the middle of the field, the substitutes came on and the clock ticked down, giving Virginia an unconvincing victory against a plucky Richmond team, 34-17.
Armstrong finished with 246 receiving yards and more than 100 rushing yards, a strong start to his highly anticipated senior campaign. On the receiving end of his passes it was a balanced afternoon of production, as Davis, Wicks and Thompson caught at least four passes.
“I’m happy about [Armstrong’s] here for me to join him, because at the end of the day, the vision that I have will only come to life with the belief of those guys, and he is critical to our future success,” Elliott said.
On the defensive end, senior linebacker Nick Jackson led the way with 14 tackles and Cypress led the secondary with three breakups and eight tackles. However, the Cavaliers couldn’t generate turnovers, something that should change as the competition gets tougher.
“There is going to be a lot to clean up, but I think the [defense] having the opportunity to see themselves being successful in situations will only help us move forward,” Elliott said.
The Cavaliers certainly have room for improvement, but Virginia needed to start the Elliott era with a win in an energetic Scott Stadium. The Cavaliers’ next game is Saturday against Illinois at 4 pm in Urbana-Champaign, Ill.