Eight has always been Richmond’s magic number, Spiders head coach Danny Rocco said this week.
Not because spiders have eight legs.
Rocco said he believes eight was the number of wins the Spiders needed to earn a third consecutive appearance in the FCS playoffs. They will find out if he’s correct on Sunday, when the 16-team FCS playoff bracket is announced.
But they appear to be in good shape heading into their regular-season finale at William & Mary Saturday on ASN.
Richmond (8-2 overall, 5-2 CAA Football) moved up one spot to No. 7 in the STATS FCS Poll after Saturday’s 31-17 victory against Delaware. Based on projections, they have a leg up for one of the six at-large playoff bids.
“I’m really proud of my football team,” Rocco said. “We had a lot of guys that weren’t available for us and once again our guys showed their toughness. The win got us to eight and I’ve always believed that was a magic number here.”
A lot of guys weren’t available, including All-America safety David Jones. He fractured a forearm against Albany on Oct. 8 and was lost for the season.
But Richmond still has linebacker Omar Howard anchoring the No. 3 total defense in CAA Football.
The Spiders still have quarterback Kyle Lauletta, the No. 6 passer in FCS with 2,915 yards, leading the No. 2 offense in CAAF (439.2 total yards and 32.2 points per game).
And Lauletta still has his favorite target in Brian Brown, Richmond’s first player with three 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Against Delaware, Brown made six catches for 139 yards and one touchdown to become the 22nd player in FCS history to reach 3,800 career yards receiving
“Brian Brown was rare, special,” Rocco said. “He’s a really gifted wide receiver.”
Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Deontez Thompson emerged as a gifted running back. He posted his fourth 100-yard game of the season against Delaware, an example what what defensive lineman Andrew Clyde described as the team’s “next-man-up mentality.”
“All year long, we’ve talked about it and this week in particular because we were so banged up,” Clyde said. “Everyone has done a really good job of stepping up and tonight was no different.”
Thompson became Richmond’s next running back up after Gordon Collins in Week 2 then Xavier Goodall in Week 6 were lost for the season. Against Delaware, Thompson finished with 132 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, giving Richmond a 100-yard rusher in 15 of its past 18 games.
“Deontez is very talented, just a little bit inexperienced,” Rocco said. “But he can carry the ball. He’s explosive.”
After replacing Goodall at Albany, Thompson ran for 112 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-30 triple-overtime victory.
“Same thing happened in high school,” said Thompson, who has 671 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. “First man down, I had to step up. Xavier went down, time to step up, man up.”
The Spiders have stepped up since being caught in an upset on Sept. 17. Ranked No. 2 at the time, Richmond lost in a rout at Stony Brook, 42-14. It was a stunning setback for the preseason pick to win the CAA Football championship, a team that started 2-0 start for the first time in five years.
“In the locker room afterwards I obviously shared my disappointment and my frustration,” Rocco said. “I’ve been really preaching to this group about how from week-to-week the jerseys and helmets of our opponents are going to change but their motivation is going to remain very high and we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. I feel like we got that from Stony Brook.”
Lauletta passed for 342 yards but was picked off three times. Stony Brook’s Sherman Alston opened the second half with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 28-14 lead.
Richmond never recovered.
But the Spiders avoided a spinout, winning six of their next seven games. The only loss was 47-43 to conference champion James Madison two weeks ago on a late touchdown pass. They bounced back against Delaware and soon will turn their focus to another magic number — two.
Richmond finished two games short of a national championship last season, losing to five-time defending national champion North Dakota State in the semifinals.
A return to the playoffs this season means another shot at the second national title in program history.