Montana 35 James Madison 27
Forget the injury to Rodney Landers. Forget the imbroglio surrounding the video reviews in the last minutes of the game. They did not matter, nor did the fact that Montana was out-gained by more than 100 yards. What did? It was a simple matter of execution by the Grizzlies on both sides of the ball in crucial moments in the game. On the offensive side, Montana went 8-12 on third down conversions, and scored all four times they entered the red zone. On the defensive side, Montana forced four turnovers, including two in the red zone. The Dukes will be kicking themselves for this one for quite some time. Here is a recap:
Richmond 21 Northern Iowa 20
Montana (14-1) won its 10th straight, forcing four turnovers and twice turning James Madison’s fumbles on kickoffs into demoralizingly short, easy touchdown drives.
“This is the first time in my 32 years in coaching that I’ve been in a game where we never punted and we lost,” Dukes coach Mickey Matthews said. “I’ve never heard of that.”
The Dukes (12-2), who rose to No. 1 in the nation after beating three-time defending champion Appalachian State in September, lost Walter Payton Award finalist Landers to a right ankle sprain late in the second quarter while already trailing 14-10. James Madison never recovered, in part because it was as inept immediately after halftime as before.
“That’s something that we haven’t done all year,” said Landers, who fumbled once.
The Dukes did make it interesting, having the ball in the final 2 minutes needing a touchdown and 2-point conversion, but their drive ended on a fourth-and-20 incompletion.
Montana drove 56 yards in seven plays after the opening kickoff of the second half, Bergquist rolling left and throwing across the field to Reynolds at the goal line on the right, a 27-yard touchdown that made it 21-10. It was Reynolds’ third touchdown of the game and school-record 22nd of the season, and the first for the sophomore on a reception.
On the ensuing kickoff, Patrick Ward fumbled for James Madison and Ryan Fetherston recovered for Montana at the JMU 34, the second lost fumble on a kickoff for the Dukes. Five plays later, Bergquist hit Steven Pfahler from 16 yards, Pfahler’s first career TD catch.
A 62 yard winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes is precisely what we have come to expect in the Dome. What was not expected was that it would come from the Spiders. And with that, the Curse of the Dome is lifted. It is clear that magic can happen there for teams other than the Panthers, and Richmond does one better than last year, and advances to the finals.
Eric Ward and the Richmond Spiders never doubted, never wavered.Prediction success this week: 1/2 (Once again, as good as a monkey with a dartboard.)
Down 20-7 going into the fourth quarter? Well, get some stops on defense and start moving on offense.
Which is just what they did.
Eric Ward threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Joe Stewart with 14 seconds left and Andrew Howard kicked the extra point, giving Richmond a 21-20 victory over Northern Iowa on Saturday and sending the Spiders to the Football Championship Subdivision title game. . . .
The unseeded Spiders beat second-seeded Appalachian State in the quarterfinals before knocking off third-seeded Northern Iowa (12-3), which was seeking its second trip to the championship game in four years.
“A lot of people said you guys don’t belong here,” first-year Richmond coach Mike London said. “I think we belong. In the first three rounds we played conference champions. This is a significant accomplishment for these players.”
Richmond started the winning drive at its own 38 with 1:44 remaining and no timeouts left. Ward completed six passes in the march, including a 4-yarder to Shawn White on fourth-and-2 at the UNI 26—White’s only catch of the game.
So how many of you who are not homers would have predicted these two teams to advance to the finals? I am certainly not one of them. Montana has put all the East Coast muttering about their being overrated to rest, and they find themselves in a familiar position, playing for the National Championship. Richmond, should they win, will have taken the most difficult path possible through the playoffs. They have already knocked off the #2 and #3 seeds, and now faced the #4 seed in the finals. So who to choose?
The teams had one common opponent, James Madison. Montana beat them by a touchdown on the road, while Richmond lost to the Dukes by a touchdown at home. Advantage Montana? Richmond, however, overcame a turnover, and it still required a last second score by James Madison to take the win. Richmond, as well, slightly out-gained the Dukes, unlike Montana, who won on the scoreboard, but lagged James Madison in yards gained. Furthermore, Richmond will travel with a large number of players who were last years national semifinal, so I am picking the Spiders to take home the National Championship.
Lets try a thought experiment. What if the FCS worked like the FBS? Who would have been in the championship game? Who would have been in the bowls? Who would have been left out? Here, as far as I can tell, is how things would have panned out:
National Championship: Appalachian State vs. James Madison
Rose Bowl: Southern Illinois vs. Weber State
Orange Bowl: Colgate vs. Villanova
Sugar Bowl: Cal Poly vs. Wofford
Fiesta Bowl: Montana vs. Texas State
Note what would have happened here. Teams that bowed out in the quarterfinals and semifinals would have played for the championship. And note that not only is Northern Iowa missing from the mix, but so is Richmond. Sorry, no third school from the CAA is welcome!
This underlines the value of actually letting things be determined where it SHOULD count. On the playing field. Its high time for the NCAA to set up an alternative to the bowl system. Give all conference winners an automatic berth to a fully seeded 16-team playoff, and allow for five at-large bids with no conference restrictions. Would the bowls survive? The important ones. It should be noted that the best attended FCS game this year, as always, will not be the championship game. Back on November 29 there was the small matter of the Bayou Classic. . .
FCS Playoff Watch 2008 #1
FCS Playoff Watch 2008 #2
FCS Playoff Watch 2008 #3
FCS Playoff Watch 2008 #4
FCS Afternoon: Countdown to the 2008 Playoffs
FCS Playoffs 2008: Bracket Projection
FCS Bracket Announced: Comment and Predictions
FCS Playoffs 2008: Results and Quarterfinals Predictions
FCS Playoffs 2008: Results and Semifinals Predictions
FCS Playoffs 2008: Results, Final Prediction, and FBS comment