It was not what Illinois State did not do that made the difference. It was what Richmond did do that saw them earn a hard fought 39-27 win over the Redbirds in the FCS Quarterfinals on Friday night at Hancock Stadium.
The Spiders played a marvelous game from beginning to end to take home a win to Richmond, Va., advance to the FCS Playoffs Semifinals and end the Redbird football team’s season much too prematurely.
After taking a quick 10-0 lead in the first quarter, the Redbirds bounced back with a 20-yard touchdown strike from Roberson to Anthony Warrum, who finished with nine catches for 152 yards. The Spiders would then take a 19-7 lead into the break following another field goal and a rushing score from Green in the final seconds of the first half.
The ‘Birds fired back with a five-yard rushing score from Coprich, but the Spiders answered with a 35-yard touchdown on a wide open screen pass from Green. The running back then added a 27-yard run to put the advantage at 32-14.
But ISU fought back to pull within 32-27 following a 12-yard touchdown catch by Coprich – his first career score – and a 17-yard run from backup QB Jake Kolbe – Roberson went down with a minor injury the play before and was required to sit out one play. The ensuing two-point conversion attempt on a Roberson draw fell short, and Green would house a 28-yard touchdown a few plays later to seal the win.
The Redbirds (10-3) owned one of, if not the best rushing attacks in the nation, but were held to a mere 78 yards rushing on the night by the Spiders (10-3). Running back Marshaun Coprich – Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year and FCS STATS Offensive Player of the Year finalist – was held to just 30 yards on 14 carries with one touchdown. Coprich, who came into the game with three straight 200-plus yard rushing performances, was completely bottled up by an outstanding Richmond game plan – one that was solely focused on stopping Coprich and the rushing attack, especially on perimeter runs.
“They did a good job stretching the plays out when we tried to get wide,” ISU quarterback Tre Roberson said. “They were working really, really hard on the perimeter which really forced everything back inside. They’re a very good defense and they deserved to win the game today.”
“We had the formula right,” Richmond head coach Danny Rocco said. “We had the edges set, had a good understanding of what we had to do and our players understood the game plan and what their jobs were.”
Defensively, the Spiders almost could not have strung together a better performance in stopping an elite ground game. Although Roberson finished 25-of-42 for 370 yards and two scores with an interception, the Richmond defense was dominant.
The other main takeaway from the game was the Redbird secondary. It was well-documented how much the defensive backs had struggled, and it all came to a head on Friday night as the defense allowed QB Kyle Lauletta to carve them up for 369 yards (399 yards passing combined between he and David Broadus, who was used mainly as a short yardage power run threat).
The secondary was the weakest part of an outstanding overall defensive unit that had allowed just 19.8 points per game on the year. But the Spiders exploited that weakness throughout the entire night, which was the exact scheme coming in.
“We came into the game saying we were gonna throw the ball down the field,” Rocco said. “It may have defied logic a little bit, like ‘Why are you guys gonna do that?’ But we just said we’re gonna throw the ball down the field, stretch the defense, put some pressure on their secondary and loosen them up a little bit.”
“Kyle was throwing the ball into some really tight windows and those guys were going up and making plays, I mean I don’t know what to say,” Rocco added. “We got some guys that can make plays. In the biggest moments they’re there to make plays for us. Kyle trusts their athleticism, and their ability.”
Brian Brown was the leading receiver, finishing with five catches for 141 yards, and the entire Richmond receiving corps made fantastic catch after fantastic catch, hauling in balls that could have been batted down by ISU cornerbacks Davontae Harris and Josh Burch. But with the defensive backs not coming up with clutch plays, it was the Spider receivers who showed up to play.
“They played a lot of play action and had some really good, quality receivers,” ISU safety Soniel Estime said. “Their quarterback put the ball on the money pretty much every time. We just got out played in certain areas. We were ready for everything, but at the end of the day you gotta make plays and they just made more plays than we did.”
Of course, it would be impossible to not mention all-conference running back Jacobi Green from Richmond, who ran all over the field on his way to a 137-yard, three-touchdown performance on 20 carries.
“Jacobi Green, it’s really hard to put into words what he did tonight,” Rocco said. “He was extraordinary. We were having a hard time getting creases in there, but it didn’t really matter. Jacobi just broke tackles and made runs. He is a gamer.”
The Redbirds’ season ends with a 10-3 record and back-to-back MVFC championships – the first time in school history they captured two straight conference titles. Meanwhile, the Spiders advanced to the FCS Semifinals and will now play the winner of No. 3 North Dakota State and Northern Iowa next weekend.