Will Healy, once of Boyd-Buchanan School, took the last snap of the last game of the season for the Richmond Spiders on Friday night. He dropped to his knee, then jumped to his feet.
Fireworks immediately lit up the sky above the east scoreboard. Throughout the Finley Stadium home stands, filled with Richmond fans, bedlam ensued.
That snap meant absolutely nothing to the Spiders’ 24-7 victory over Montana in the NCAA Division I FCS title game.
But first-year Richmond coach Mike London’s decision to send the senior Healy into the game for the final two plays of his college career meant everything to the former Buccaneer.
“It was really incredible for Coach London to even think of that with all that was going on,” Healy said. “I’ll never forget that.”
Said London with a grin, mindful that Will’s father Rob announced earlier this week that he was running for mayor: “We had to get the vice mayor of Chattanooga into the game.”
Not to be ugly, but Healy was in the game at quarterback those final two plays because Montana was almost never in the game against the Spiders, who won their first FCS national championship far more easily than anyone could have imagined.
“Oh, I thought it was going to go down to the wire,” said former Richmond football legend Brian Jordan, who later starred for the Atlanta Falcons in football and the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals in baseball. “I was so excited a couple of times I wanted to run out on the field and make a tackle myself. I never thought I would see Richmond experience something like this.”
It is a great credit to the man who’s been running the Spiders defense lately that Jordan’s giant talent was never needed, though the former major league All-Star still looked as if he could make a tackle or two in his Richmond letter jacket.
Matched against a team averaging nearly 400 yards and more than 33 points, defensive coordinator Russ Huesman’s bunch held the Grizzlies to 39 yards rushing on 25 attempts and 267 total yards.
If University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director Rick Hart didn’t have Huesman at the top of his list to become the school’s next head football coach before this game, he surely must now.
“He turned our defense into something special,” said Richmond fullback Shawn White. “It was like we knew what they were going to run before they did.”
London certainly deserves some of the credit for this. He and Huesman both had been candidates to replace Dave Clawson when Clawson took the offensive coordinator’s post at Tennessee last winter. London could have chosen someone else for his defensive coordinator, despite he and Huesman being old friends.
But he retained Huesman, who continued building the Spiders defense into a web that couldn’t be broken.
Come Friday night, in the town where he once starred for the Mocs and should soon become UTC’s next head coach, Huesman put on the job interview of a lifetime without ever opening his mouth.
“This is this. That’s that,” Huesman, who’s completing his fifth season at the school, said of the Richmond and UTC situations. “Right now, I’m just so happy for the fans of Richmond. They deserve this so much.”
Healy will tell you UTC should pay close attention to this Spiders triumph for more reasons than one. Or maybe for one reason above all else.
Pointing to the fact that London once starred for the Spiders at roughly the same time Huesman was a standout for UTC, Healy said, “Chattanooga was able to see tonight what an alum can do for a football program. Coach London has a lot invested in this program beyond it being his job. I’m sure Coach Huesman would do the same tremendous job for UTC.”
All he needs now is the chance.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...