Wally Richardson bookended his two-year starting career in the regular season in quite possibly the most memorable way for a quarterback: He led a game-winning drive. Add in two impressive bowl wins, and the 1995-96 stretch for Richardson was both incredibly accomplished and efficient. And also underrated.
The second part of that pair came in late November against Michigan State in 1996, during a time when the Nittany Lions and Spartans usually met one another in the regular season finale. Mirroring his effort against Texas Tech in the 1995 season opener, Richardson engineered a late-minute drive that set up Penn State kicker Brett Conway to deliver the game-winning field goal.
Each time, Conway delivered.
As John Black wrote in The Football Letter following the 1996 win over the Spartans:
“Concluding his last game in 1996 the same way he did his first in 1995, the lanky quarterback from South Carolina moved his team smartly down the field, eating up the final four minutes of the clock and positioning Conway for his kicking heroics.”
Richardson finished the game by matching his personal best of 281 yards on 21-of-31 passing, also throwing for one touchdown.
Richardson served as team captain for the season finale, Black noted, saying that the quarterback showed signs of satisfaction in the media room after the game. “We’ve all had tough times this year, so I’m glad we were able to bounce back. … We all had to dig deep to get things straightened out with the team,” Richardson said, with Black adding that the signal-caller was alluding to the team’s loss to Iowa earlier in the season.
After the setback to the Hawkeyes, the Nittany Lions won their last four regular season games against Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan, and Michigan State by a combined score of 143-81.
The 32-29 victory over Michigan State catapulted the Nittany Lions once again to the Fiesta Bowl, where they dismantled a talented Texas squad 38-15. Two-time All-American and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams led a talented backfield for the Longhorns, who led 12-7 at halftime before the Nittany Lions ran away by outscoring their opponents 31-3 in the second half.
Penn State’s 1996 team finished 11-2 and ranked No. 7 in the final polls, with wins also over USC in the Kickoff Classic and at Wisconsin. Additionally, the Fiesta Bowl victory paired with Penn State’s win in the 1996 Outback Bowl to give the Nittany Lions four straight bowl wins.
If Richardson’s name sounds familiar beyond the gridiron, there’s a reason for that. As many fans know, Richardson is the director of the Penn State Football Letterman’s Club, which has more than 1,000 dues-paying members and a database of more than 1,500 former Penn State football players and student managers. In his role, he also serves as the primary liaison between Penn State Football and the State College Quarterback Club.
From Sumter, S.C., Richardson led Penn State to a 20-5 record as the starting quarterback in 1995-96 and graduated holding several Penn State records, one of which did not fall until 2012, when Matt McGloin completed 35 passes vs. Northwestern to break Richardson’s mark (33 vs. Wisconsin, 1995). His 193 completions in 1995 still rank No. 6 in school history and his 335 attempts that season are fifth-highest.
Fans can hear from Richardson during this week’s episode of The Football Letter Live, airing Thursday night at 8. You can register online or tune in on Facebook, with fellow lettermen Lydell Sargeant (2005-08) also joining the program to talk about his time with the Nittany Lions.
Both Richardson and Sargeant have built impressive careers as athletic administrative leaders, with Richardson in his role with the letterman’s club and Sargeant currently serving as the associate athletic director for development and revenue generation at Morgan State. Sargeant’s previous stops include UCLA and Marquette.
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