t was bearing down on 1 a.m., but the celebration in the ballroom next door to the Richmond Spiders' team hotel showed no signs of slowing down.
The easiest person to spot among several hundred joyous members of Spider Nation: head coach Mike London. He was the one with the big grin, holding the national championship trophy tight against the front of his torso.
"They handed it to me on the stage," London said as he mingled with the masses, "and I haven't given it up. I'll probably sleep with it a little bit."
Almost two hours earlier, the Spiders had put the finishing touches on Friday night's 24-7 demolition of Montana for the Football Championship Subdivision title.
The party had moved from the Finley Stadium field back downtown to the hotel area, and everyone was a part of it.
Folks reveled in the moment, many of them eventually rotating toward London and the Richmond trophy case's latest addition.
Players wanted to hold it. Little kids came up and simply touched the wood-and-metal prize while their parents Kodak-momented away.
"It's unbelievable," London said over his shoulder, as folks posed alongside him for photos. "I don't have the words to describe it."
Indeed, words seemed inadequate after the Colonial Athletic Association's third-place team with the rookie head coach, a UR alum with deep Peninsula roots, defeated the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 seeds in the playoffs to give the school its first
title in any sport.
"It's a mixture of emotions," bruising tailback Josh Vaughan said amid the commotion. "When I saw my parents afterward, I started crying. I couldn't help it. I'm so happy for everybody on the team and for everything we've done. It's just a mix of emotions."
Vaughan, an uncommon mix of power and speed at the FCS level, rushed for 162 yards and one touchdown as the Spiders bolted to a 21-0 halftime lead. They scored on three of their first four possessions; it would have been four of five had they not missed a makeable field goal at the halftime gun.
"You give our defense 21 points and (an opponent) only one half to come back," UR quarterback Eric Ward said, "I like those odds. I like our chances."
With good reason. Friday night the Spiders "boa constrictor-ed" a Montana team that came in averaging 33.5 points per game and that put up 35 points at No. 1 James Madison in a semifinal win.
The Grizzlies and tough-as-nails tailback Chase Reynolds averaged 252 yards rushing in their first three playoff games. Against the Spiders, they netted 39.
Richmond folded, boxed and wrapped Montana quarterback Cole Bergquist. The Spiders sacked him seven times and tagged him with a thigh contusion in the first quarter that limited his mobility and affected his push-off when he threw.
"We didn't do anything special," said defensive end and chief tormentor Lawrence Sidbury Jr., who had four of the seven sacks against the Grizzlies' overmatched offensive tackles. "We're just a bunch of guys with a common goal trying to play well."
The perennial Big Sky Conference champs and playoff fixtures — this was their 16th consecutive postseason appearance — got inside the Richmond 10-yard line on their first possession, but eventually pushed a field-goal attempt wide right. They didn't sniff the end zone again until the fourth quarter.
"They did a really nice job tonight," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said, "doing to us what we've been doing to people we've played lately."
Friday night capped a remarkable postseason run by UR defensive coordinator Russ Huesman's group. During the playoffs, the Spiders actually surrendered fewer points (12.5) and rushing yards (77) per game than in the regular season — 16.7 points and 99.7 rushing yards.
Huesman, a one-time
assistant, will interview in the coming days for the vacant head coaching job with another FCS team, the Chattanooga Moccasins. A former Mocs standout himself as a player, he is believed to be the front-runner. He certainly didn't hurt himself with Friday's in-person performance before the local brass.
"I go up against our defense every day, so I know how good they are," said Ward, who threw for one touchdown pass and caught another on a trick play on the game's first series. "In practice, sometimes we'll get the better of them and sometimes they'll get the better of us. But in a game situation, I wouldn't want to face them."
Even if Huesman doesn't get the Chattanooga job, he figures to return to coach a UR defense that brings back nine of 11 starters next year. Ward, a junior, leads a group of seven starters back on offense.
But that's for later. The present belongs to this group. London became the third rookie head coach to win the championship, joining Georgia Southern's Tim Stowers and Marshall's Bob Pruett.
London also was the first African-American head coach to win the title since Rudy Hubbard guided
to the first FCS, or Division I-AA, championship in 1978.
London was asked after the game about the big-picture significance of such a feat. He said that he wanted to be known and judged on his work, not his race. He knows that some people will attach greater significance to the accomplishment because of his race and said, essentially, that's for other people to decide.
The moment certainly wasn't lost on Richmond's players, or anyone else in the stadium or later in the ballroom. Rookie head coach leads his alma mater to a national championship. Pretty good story, irrespective of color.
"Coach London is a great guy," Vaughan said, a few feet from where London held court. "He's the happiest guy in here. He deserves it. He worked for it. I'm happy we were able to get it for him."