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In home opener, transfers spark Spiders over Red Flash 31-21

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The transfers brought in by the University of Richmond to provide an offensive spark this season did that Saturday night at Robins Stadium. The Spiders needed their thrust to get past Saint Francis 31-21.

Richmond belongs to CAA Football, whose members work with a 63-scholarship limit, the maximum at the FCS level. Saint Francis was picked to finish third in the Northeast Conference, whose members work with a 45-scholarship limit.

So this was perhaps not as dominating an evening as Spiders’ supporters might have liked to see, but it didn’t turn out badly for UR after falling behind 6-0 and losing a fumble at the SFU 2 late in the first half.

The Spiders closed with a defensive highlight: an interception and 35-yard scoring return by Aaron Banks with 1:22 left. The Red Flash had possession around UR’s 15, and trailed 24-21, when Banks made his play on an overthrow.

“I think we got pressure on [the QB] ... and he just threw it up and nobody was there but me,” said Banks. “So I think that was probably credit to the linebackers and the D-line.”

Banks, a free safety, collected his second interception with 46 seconds left.

Tailback Savon Smith rushed for a career-high 123 yards on 21 carries for UR as the Spiders picked up 487 yards.

“Probably should have had way more points, I think,” said Richmond coach Russ Huesman. “We moved the ball right down the field. We execute on offense. ... Defensively, we’re not very good. We’ve got to get better, no question.”

Richmond (1-1), facing the 6-0 deficit, began moving behind completions of 18 and 12 yards involving VMI graduates, quarterback Reece Udinski and receiver Jakob Herres. Those drove UR to its first touchdown. A 25-yard reception by Nick DeGennaro, a transfer from Maryland, got the Spiders out of a field-position hole and on their way to their second TD in the first half.

“We didn’t come out the way we wanted to,” said Banks.

Udinski completed 29 of 38 attempts for 263 yards and three short touchdowns. Herres had six receptions for 79 yards, and DeGennaro added three catches for 49 yards.

The Spiders opened last weekend with a 34-17 loss at Virginia, and mostly encouraging signs came from that game (no turnovers, no offensive penalties). UR’s home opener did not start in an encouraging way. Richmond drove to SFU 35 but failed on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1.

That was a theme repeated. UR gained 294 first-half yards (to SFU’s 181) but did not fully take advantage of advantageous field position. The Spiders settled for a 30-yard field goal from Jake Larson to lead 17-13 in the third quarter.

SFU rotated quarterbacks Justin Sliwoski and Cole Doyle, as was the routine in last Saturday’s 30-23 overtime loss at FBS member Akron.

Richmond led 14-13 at halftime, though it appeared the difference would be larger. Udinski lost a fumble at the end of a scramble at the SFU 2 with 16 seconds left in the second quarter.

UR in the first half scored on Udinski completions to Smith (5 yards) and Aaron Dykes (16 yards), who was sharing tailback rotations with Smith. Dykes left in the third quarter with what appeared to be a right shoulder injury.

Udinski threw his third TD pass with 10 minutes remaining, a 5-yard completion to Jasiah Williams (Thomas Dale High).

“It’s never easy. Somehow, we gutted it out,” said Huesman. “Our offense got some first downs and obviously our defense stepped up the last two [SFU possessions] with picks by Aaron Banks and got it done.”

The Red Flash (0-2) are in the midst of a schedule that begins with four road games.

The Spiders visit Bethlehem, Pa., and Lehigh Saturday in their final game outside of CAA Football competition. Lehigh’s Mountain Hawks, picked to finish fifth in the seven-team Patriot League, began their season with a 45-17 loss at Villanova, the CAA Football favorite.

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