Greg Zolman threw two touchdown passes and Lew Thomas rushed for two as Vanderbilt overcame an early deficit and defeated Division I-AA Richmond 28-22 Saturday.
The victory was the first of the season for Vanderbilt (1-2) and first home victory since Sept. 23, 2000. Richmond (0-2), which had not played since losing to Virginia 17-16 on Sept. 1, built a 16-7 first-half lead, but could not hold on.
“It feels good to win a football game,” said Vanderbilt coach Woody Widenhofer. “It is hard to win a game at any level.”
Zolman completed 20 of 32 passes for 236 yards, moving him into second-place on Vanderbilt’s all-time career passing list with 6,258 yards. Zolman needs 50 yards to pass Whit Taylor’s school record.
“It is nice to move up, but it could have been broken tonight because I should have had a few more completions,” said Zolman, who has thrown 123 straight passes without an interception. “We worked hard on offense and I think we can build on this.”
Vanderbilt trailed 16-14 at halftime, but a pair of one-yard touchdown runs by Thomas in the third quarter put Vanderbilt in front for good. Thomas, in his first career start, carried 15 times for 93 yards.
“I attribute all my success to the offensive line,” Thomas said. “They are pushing people back so I can read the line. It is easy to get six yards a carry when you can read the line.”
The game marked the return for both teams to the playing field for the first time since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Heightened security and patriotic tributes greeted the 23,107 fans in attendance, with 50 percent of the revenues generated from ticket sales going to The American Red Cross National Disaster Relief Fund.
Vanderbilt Stadium was locked down Friday night before the game by security, and a canine unit from the Metro Police Department swept the stadium prior to the gates opening to the public on Saturday. Uniformed security at the game was increased, fans were not allowed to bring in backpacks or handbags of any kind, and the air space above the stadium was restricted.
Prior to the game, Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance before a moment of silence
Richmond jumped out to a surprising 10-0 lead to start the game after a four-yard score by Sean Gustus and a 31-yard field goal by Doug Kirchner. Vanderbilt answered with a 41-yard scoring toss from Zolman to Dan Stricker, but Richmond built its lead to 16-7 on a one-yard plunge by Gustus.
“That had us a little out of sync in the first half,” Widenhofer said. “We played much more aggressively on defense in the second half.”
In the final minute of the half, Zolman hooked up with Stricker for a touchdown from 12 yards out, cutting Vanderbilt’s halftime deficit to 16-14.