By Chuck Burton
College Sporting News
PHILADELPHIA — It's pretty hard to believe, but just two weeks ago Richmond head football man Wayne Lineburg wasn't even a head coach.
It's because of a stunning turn of events over the past month, where former Spider head man Latrell Scott was dismissed from the school after being charged with a DUI offense for the second time in his career.
It seemed to be the type of opening of the season that was better suited for a horror story than an FBS upset.
But fortunately for the Spiders, it was Duke who was the victim of a Spider invasion, not a Blue Devil stomping on a CAA team in disarray.
Few would have thought back in May that the 37-year-old assistant would be a head coach anywhere this fall.
That's not because the Spiders' offensive coordinator wasn't a good coach — last year, he was in the process of making quarterback Aaron Corp into a budding FCS star, until the oft-injured transfer from USC had his season ended by a knee injury.
With the sudden resignation by Scott, Lineburg — a Radford, VA. native — was at the helm of a program a mere two weeks before the trip to Durham, N.C.
So what does an interim head coach, with no experience coaching any part of a football program except the offense, do two weeks before travelling to an FBS opponent?
He keeps everything in place.
He remains the offensive coordinator and "let his assistants oversee their areas without much input," John O'Connor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch said.
"There's no way of knowing how the Spiders will connect with Lineburg," O'Connor reported, "and if Richmond starts poorly, the spotlight could shift from weekly team performance and progress to potential candidates for the job Lineburg currently holds."
"Coach Lineburg was in charge of offense before last week, and is still now," said the starting quarterback under his tutelage, Aaron Corp, and one can sense the defensiveness of the statement — and, perhaps, the fire to go out on Saturday and prove to everyone in the world of FCS who's boss.
As a result, the Spiders, who were picked to finish sixth in the always-brutal CAA before the sudden, unexpected resignation, seemed poised for a tough season.
Most FCS observers expected that, until they learned what happened on Saturday.
The Spiders came out strong against Duke, a team they had also beaten two years ago 24-16 under then-coach Mike London, who was coming off his national championship the year before.
Richmond also defeated Duke at the beginning of the 2006 campaign, a year that saw the Spiders building towards that 2008 FCS title under Dave Clawson.
Richmond got a break early when safety Cooper Taylor delivered a rattling hit to Duke quarterback Sean Renfree, with defensive tackle Brandon Scott falling on the loose ball.
Three plays later, the Spiders went ahead 7-0 after Corp hit wideout Stephen Barnette in the end zone.
Taylor's debut in a Spider uniform was a memorable one, with 14 tackles and that crucial forced fumble.
Lining up all over the defensive backfield, sometimes at linebacker, sometimes at safety, sometimes man-up with a receiver, Taylor caused the Blue Devil offense fits all evening.
After another fumble forced deep in Duke territory ended up in a 29-yard field goal by true freshman kicker Remington Henshaw, who was pushed into service beacuse the regular starter was suspended for "violating team rules."
The Spiders entered the locker room with a slender 10-7 lead and an awful lot of confidence.
Out of the gate in the second half, Duke attempted to regain control of the game with an 11-play, 79-yard drive to go ahead 14-10, but the Spiders responded almost immediately.
Aided immensely by a 49-yard strike to the speedy Tre Gray, Richmond's offense delivered a response in the form of fullback Kendall Gaskins' eight-yard TD rumble to make it a 17-14 game.
"I wouldn't trade him for anybody," Lineburg said of Gray after the game. "He's as a tough a kid as they come. He made a lot of huge plays and a lot of runs after catches that were crucial in the game."
Having cobbled together his team and his staff, having dealt with the whirlwind of the last two weeks, Lineburg was engaged in a UFC match with the Blue Devils, and his team was not going to let go of the lead.
Duke would once again respond with a 10-play, 73-yard touchdown driveto take the lead, but with Corp, Grey and Gaskins steadily keeping the Blue Devil defense off balance, the Spiders would take the lead again on a one-yard plunge by running back Garrett Turner to take a slender 23-21 lead.
Richmond's defense, now wearing down against the Blue Devils, let Duke drive to the Richmond five-yard line.
But a big sack by Spider defensive end Evan Kelly of Renfree — who was seemingly frozen by Richmond's pass defense in a textbook "coverage sack" — would force a field goal attempt by Duke placekicker Will Snyderwine, one of the best kickers in the ACC, to try to steal a victory away from the jaws of defeat.
But Snyderwine would miss.
In an effort to get his kick out of the way of a leaping Tre Gray, he'd push the ball to the right on a 28-yard attempt, and basically sealed the deal on the Spiders' third straight defeat of the Blue Devils.
Snyderwine missed again from 60 yards out as the game came to an end.
Of all the wins over Duke, it's this one by Richmond that would have to be the most improbable of the bunch.
"I think they've hung together over some adverse conditions over the last few weeks and we're all just proud of them and we're proud of the staff for sticking together and doing things the right way," Lineburg said after the game. "We've got great kids in this program and it showed tonight. They played hard and got after it, and it was a great win for the program."