CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Kyle Lauletta and Richmond believed they had a legitimate shot in their game against Virginia, even though the Spiders play in the Football Championship Subdivision and the Cavaliers are in one of the Power Five conference.
But even Lauletta never expected the Spiders to dominate.
They did Saturday as the senior threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns, the defense held Virginia to negative rushing yards heading into the fourth quarter and the Spiders rolled to a 37-20 victory, spoiling Bronco Mendenhall’s debut at Virginia.
“When we can run and pass like that, we’re tough to beat,” the redshirt junior said.
The Spiders outgained Virginia 524-302 in winning for just the third time in 33 meetings in the series. The victory was the fourth in Richmond’s last nine meetings with an FBS-level school, but its first victory against the Cavaliers since 1946.
Lauletta, the preseason offensive player of the year in the Colonial Athletic Association, teamed up with Tyler Wilkins for scoring throws of 11 and 5 yards, and hit Brian Brown for 11 yards. He also sidestepped Virginia’s pressure on several occasions.
“We responded extremely well to adversity and we answered, really, every time we had to answer throughout the course of the game,” said Spiders coach Danny Rocco, whose team reached the FCS semifinals last season. “Our team expected to win.”
The Cavaliers, on the other hand, gave Mendenhall and his staff their first glimpse at the rebuilding job that lies ahead.
“The clarity is the excitement and optimism and hope is what I’ve been mentioning and eventually I said the execution would catch up,” Mendenhall said. “That part is further behind than I thought. … I’m surprised. I learned a lot today.”
The coach, who won 99 games in 11 seasons at BYU before replacing Mike London last December, also felt like he got a glimpse of the past for Virginia, which hasn’t made it to a bowl game since 2011. Mendenhall’s team went to one every year.
“I think they want to be resilient and I think they want to believe and have new habits but there is some history here and there was some reversion to that today,” he said. “My job is to help them build great habits.”
Kurt Benkert threw for three touchdowns in his first start at Virginia, but two came in the final quarter after Richmond had taken a 30-7 lead. Benkert also threw an interception deep in Spiders territory, one of turnovers for the Cavaliers.
“It’s just a little bit of a road bump and it’s going to set up a great story,” Benkert said.
RICHMOND: The Spiders, 33-7 losers to North Dakota State in the FCS semifinals last year, have to be considered favorites to get back. The offensive line had little trouble handling Virginia up front and Lauletta makes good decisions, can make all the throws and extend plays with his feet. Staying healthy will be critical.
VIRGINIA: The defense struggled mightily in its first game in Mendenhall’s 3-4 alignment. There were numerous missed assignments and missed tackles galore. The Spiders moved the ball at will at times, and Lauletta was hardly ever bothered by pressure. What little he faced, he usually sidestepped it pretty easily.
Richmond scored twice before the Cavaliers ever ran an offensive play from scrimmage. The Spiders drove 64 yards in eight plays after the opening kickoff to a 28-yard field goal by Griffin Trau. On the ensuing kickoff, Connor Wingo-Reeves was stripped of the ball and Jevaris Little recovered for the Spiders at the 36. Six plays later, Trau connected from 25 yards and it was 6-0.
Virginia turned it over against on the next drive after marching inside the Richmond 10. Taquan Mizzell was stripped on a run into the line by Brendan Coniker, who also recovered, and the Spiders then drove 95 yards in 10 plays to Wilkins’ first TD catch.
Ricky Segers later boomed a 50-yard field goal for the Spiders.
RICHMOND: The Spiders open their home schedule against Norfolk State.
VIRGINA: The Cavaliers travel across the country to face No. 24 Oregon, finishing a home-and-home series that started with the Ducks winning 59-10 at Virginia in 2013.