Dec. 2, 2008

By Nate Crossman
Special to

With Richmond’s NCAA Division I Football Championship tournament quarterfinal game against defending national champion Appalachian State looming Saturday at noon, it seems everyone associated with the Spiders and Mountaineers want to talk about last year’s national semifinal, which Appalachian State won 55-35 on the strength of then-sophomore quarterback Armanti Edwards’ 495 total yards.

Everyone, that is, except Richmond.

While others are celebrating – or in some cases lamenting – the past, the Spiders are making a concerted effort to shy away from it, and rightfully so. This season’s team has a new coach in Mike London, and many of its star players were either injured for last year’s game against the Mountaineers or buried on the depth chart.

For example, senior running back Josh Vaughan, who rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns in his team’s 38-10 first-round win over Eastern Kentucky, was backing up Tim Hightower, who is now the Arizona Cardinals’ starting running back. Redshirt freshman receiver Tre Gray, who caught seven passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns against Eastern Kentucky, was contemplating transferring.

“It’s not really a mindset; it’s just the reality of the situation,” Vaughan said of he and his teammates’ seeming aversion to retrospection. “Last year’s team is in the past; this team is in the present.”

London has less of a problem dwelling on last year since he wasn’t at Richmond. But even if he had been, he wouldn’t be preparing for Saturday’s game against Appalachian State based on last year’s performance.

“The way we’re preparing this week is the way we’ve prepared all this year,” said London, who is 10-3 in his first head coaching position. “We look at it as this year’s (Appalachian State) team versus our team; not last year’s team.”

There is, of course, one caveat: Edwards.

Although London is new to the FCS, he’s familiar with Edwards. London’s son Brandon might have a national championship ring to go with the Super Bowl one he earned last year as a receiver on the New York Giants practice squad had it not been for Edwards. Edwards gained 226 total yards as a freshman to lead the Mountaineers to a 28-17 win over London’s UMass team in the 2006 national championship game.

Edwards threw for a school-record 433 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 78 and another touchdown in his team’s 37-21 first-round win over South Carolina State, and has accounted for more than 3,000 yards of offense and 39 touchdowns this season.

“If there’s a warp speed, that’s what he has,” London said. “Our biggest key (defensively) is to be sound tackling and to know where he is at all times.”

The Spiders will be the underdogs at notoriously rowdy Kidd Brewer Stadium. But they’re used to playing in big games, having navigated the Colonial Athletic Association’s South Division, which includes James Madison and Villanova, both of whom are still in the playoffs, along with the CAA North’s New Hampshire.

“We’ve played in close games for 60 minutes,” London said. “Our league gives us the opportunity to hang in there with some of the best teams in the country.”

Playoff Musings

Richmond’s rematch with Appalachian State isn’t the only one occurring in the quarterfinals. All three other games are rematches of some variety, with two occurring this season.

On the other side of Richmond and Appalachian State’s bracket, James Madison will host fellow CAA member Villanova, while Weber State will travel to Big Sky foe Montana.

Weber State upset Montana earlier in the season, a win that put the Wildcats on the FCS map. The two teams shared the Big Sky title when Weber State lost its regular-season finale to Eastern Washington. As a result, the Grizzlies will host the Wildcats, a prospect that Weber State doesn’t mind.

“We love playing on the road,” senior receiver Bryant Eteuati told the Salt Lake City Tribune. “We’re better prepared and we’re more focused. We feel we play a lot better on the road.”

In a season filled with close wins, James Madison fashioned its closest over Villanova, winning 23-19 when quarterback Rodney Landers hit receiver Bosco Williams with a last-second 35-yard touchdown pass.

The loss seemed to galvanize the Wildcats, as they won their final four regular-season games before beating Colgate 55-28 in the first round of the playoffs.

New Hampshire will return to Northern Iowa’s UNI Dome, the scene of its heartbreaking first-round playoff loss last year. After trailing for most of the game, the Wildcats took the lead with 1:16 to play on Chad Kackert’s 15-yard touchdown run. But Panthers quarterback Eric Sanders led his team on a 71-yard scoring drive with no timeouts, punctuating it with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Montari Edwards with seven seconds to play to give his team a 38-35 win.

Payton Tracker

The three finalists for the Walter Payton Award were announced, and it includes two players who are still in the playoffs, and one who isn’t. James Madison quarterback Rodney Landers and Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards made the final threesome, as did Western Illinois running back Herb Donaldson. Landers and Edwards teams have quarterfinal games on Saturday, while Donaldson’s team didn’t make the playoffs.

Since Donaldson has been off for two weeks, voters have plenty of time to evaluate his stats, and their impressive. Donaldson led the FCS in rushing with 1,784 yards, good for a 162 yard-per-game average.

Donaldson, however, will have a tough time competing with Landers and Edwards, since they’ll both be receiving plenty of face-time thanks to their teams’ successes.

Edwards still appears to be the favorite. He also rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown. With 62 more rushing yards, he’ll become only the second player in Division I history to rush for more than 1,000 yards and pass for more than 2,000 yards in two separate seasons. The other is former Missouri quarterback Brad Smith, who’s now with the New York Jets.

Landers, however, refuses to back down from Edwards. Landers had another one of his typical days in the Bulldogs’ 38-35 win over Wofford, rushing for 166 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, and completed eight of 15 passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns. Landers has thrown for 1,362 yards and 18 touchdowns to go with only four interceptions, and is seventh in the FCS in rushing with 1,543 yards, good for a 128.6 yards-per-game average.

The winner of the Payton Award will be announced Dec. 18 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Extra Points

Despite rushing for only 75 yards, Northern Iowa running back Corey Lewis still broke the program’s all-time rushing record. Lewis now has 3,886 yards, eclipsing the previous record held by Jeff Stovall…After only turning the ball over six times all season, Cal Poly turned it over five times in its 49-35 loss to Weber State. Quarterback Jonathan Dally, who only threw one interception during the regular season, was intercepted four times…UNH place-kicker Tom Bishop’s five field goals in his team’s 29-20 win over Southern Illinois tied the playoff record previously set by Fordham in 2002 and Western Illinois in 2003…Colgate running back Jordan Scott, who rushed for 94 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries in his team’s 55-28 loss to Villanova, broke the all-time Division I record for career carries with 1,240. The previous record, 1,215, was held by Colorado State’s Steve Bartalo.