Editor’s Note: This is another article in a continuing series of articles from past FCS championship games. This is the game story from Richmond’s 2008 title win over Montana.
This story originally appeared on The Sports Network.
By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
CHATTANOOGA, TN. — Richmond found a way to out-Montana Montana on Friday night and the result was a 24-7 victory in the NCAA Division I Football Championship game before 17,823 fans at Finley Stadium.
The Spiders (13-3) jumped on Montana (14-2) with a 23-yard pass from fullback John Crone to quarterback Eric Ward in the first quarter, on the way to a 21-0 halftime lead.
From there, Richmond turned its pass rush loose on Montana quarterback Cole Bergquist to finish off its first national championship.
“They did a really nice job tonight, doing to us what we’ve been doing to people we’ve played lately,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. “They played great defense and didn’t let us back in the game.”
It was an evening of accomplishments for a Spider club that had to knock off No. 2 seed and three-time national champion Appalachian State in the quarterfinals, No. 3 Northern Iowa in the semifinals and No. 4 Montana in the final.
Richmond became only the third private school to reach the title game, joining Furman (1985, 1988 and 2001) and Colgate (2003) and the first to win it since the Paladins won 20 years ago.
First-year coach Mike London, a former Richmond defensive back and Spider assistant, became the first African-American head coach to win an FCS title since Rudy Hubbard took Florida A&M to the first championship in 1978.
London is the third first-year coach to win the national title, joining Tim Stowers of Georgia Southern (1990) and Bob Pruett of Marshall (1996).
“I’m excited this is Richmond’s first national championship and let’s leave it at that,” said London.
Richmond’s only other national title in any sport was an AIAW Division II crown in women’s tennis in 1982.
The Spiders set the tone early when they marched 11 plays and 66 yards after the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
Montana had been dodging drives such as this throughout the playoffs by forcing field goals, but on third and two from the Grizzly 23, Richmond dug a play out of its play book that hadn’t been used all season.
“We’ve practiced it since week one,” said Crone. “We never ran it and I never thought we would run it. I began giggling when it was called, because I never thought we would run it.”
Ward handed the ball to Crone on a sweep to the right side and ducked out of the backfield to the left side. Crone then tossed the ball over the defense to a wide-open Ward, who waltzed into the end zone untouched.
“I’ve seen Eric trip and fall and all sorts of things on that play,” said London.
“It was like in slow motion,” said Crone. “I knew I had to hit him, or I would never hear the end of it. Once I threw it, I knew it would be a touchdown.”
Montana answered in a way it had during all of its 10-game winning streak. The Grizzlies moved down the field, sparked by a diving catch for 47 yards by Marc Mariani before an illegal procedure penalty on Levi Horn and a sack of Bergquist by Nick Hicks forced Montana to go for a field goal attempt.
A poor hold from Eric Stoll contributed to Brody McKnight’s miss wide right from 33 yards. It was the closest thaŸt Montana would come to scoring until the fourth quarter.
A 21-yard punt return by Derek Hatcher gave the Spiders the ball at the Montana 34 in the second quarter and Richmond made short work to score again.
Ward (12-of-18 for 96 yards and one TD) found Kevin Grayson free for 23 yards before running for six yards on a quarterback draw play. Josh Vaughan (23 carries, 162 yards) was stuffed on the right side, but bounced the run around the left side and into the end zone to make it 14-0.
Penalties kept putting the Grizzlies into long-yardage situations to negate the running game and Richmond’s pass rush kept Bergquist (19-of-36 for 267 yards) under pressure when he tried to pass.
Lawrence Sidbury Jr. was the biggest problem for the Montana offensive line with four of the Spiders seven sacks.
Richmond limited Montana to 39 yards rushing and snapped an eight-game string of 100-yard rushing efforts by Chase Reynolds. Reynolds, who came in with 1,536 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground, was held to 12 carries for 47 yards.
Unable to match Richmond’s offensive prowess, Montana watched the game begin to slip away when the Spiders took the ball 75 yards in 12 plays to make it 21-0 with 2:13 left in the second period on Ward’s 13-yard strike to running back Garrett Wilkins in the end zone.
Richmond had a chance for a knockout punch on Montana’s next offensive play when Bergquist was hit by Martin Parker and fumbled. Safety Michael Ireland recovered at the Grizzly 31, but the Spiders mismanaged the clock and Andrew Howard’s 28-yard field goal sailed wide right as the first half ended.
The third quarter proved to be a stalemate between the two defenses, leaving Montana with 15 minutes to make a comeback.
The Grizzlies finally scored on a nice, 13-play, 69-yard drive that ended with Chase Reynolds banging in from the four to help Montana pull within 21-7.
Montana forced a three and out from the Spiders and seemed to be gaining momentum until a Bergquist pass bounced off the hands of Tyler Palmer for an interception by Richmond linebacker Eric McBride.
McBride raced 21 yards with the return to give the Spiders the ball at the Montana 21, but the Grizzly defense stopped Richmond again to force another Spider field goal attempt.
This time, it was Brian Radford that took the kick and his 39-yard boot was through the uprights to give Richmond a three-possession lead with 6:54 remaining.
Any hopes Montana had of a comeback ended on the next drive when Parker knocked down a Bergquist pass on fourth and seven from the Richmond 22, giving the Spiders the ball back for the final three and a half minutes.
“This team has been through a lot this year,” London said. “You saw today, the character of this team, how resilient we are. This year, this team is the team of destiny.”