Earl Bennett caught three touchdown passes to lead Vanderbilt to a season-opening 41-17 victory over Richmond on Saturday night at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The All-Southeastern Conference wide receiver, who began the season 48 catches away from becoming the league’s all-time career leader, finished with 13 receptions for a school-record 223 yards.
Vanderbilt won its first season-opening game at home since 1997 and scored its most points in an opener since 1950.
Bennett helped the Commodores blow the game open on the first series of the second half, catching a 49-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Nickson to hand Vanderbilt a 28-10 lead.
Bennett was also a special-teams standout, returning punts for 36 and 25 yards.
“He always puts on a show out there if you get him the ball,” Nickson said of Bennett. “He always does his thing. Any time you get him one on one with somebody, you always have faith that he’s going to get the job done.”
Nickson brushed off his record-setting night.
“I just go out and play,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter to me. I’m more concerned that we got the win tonight.”
Bennett caught two touchdown passes in the first half. The second came from the 1-yard line with 12 seconds remaining and gave the Commodores a 21-10 lead.
He also caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Nickson with 5:31 left in the second quarter, pushing Vanderbilt’s lead to 14-3.
In the first half, Bennett caught eight passes for 78 yards. His three touchdowns gave him 18 for his career, moving him into a tie for third place all-time at Vanderbilt.
Richmond went ahead 3-0 with 6:31 remaining in the first half on a 22-year field goal by Andrew Howard.
Vanderbilt answered when tailback Jeff Jennings scored on a four-year run, making it 7-3. The short drive was set up by a 63-year kickoff return by D.J. Moore.
Trailing 31-10 in the third quarter, the Spiders stayed close when Justin Rogers returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 31-17.
The Commodores responded when Nickson connected with tailback Jeff Jennings for a three-yard touchdown pass, pushing the score to 38-17.
GOLD NUGGETS: Vanderbilt starting safety Reshard Langford left Saturday’s game in the first half with an unspecified injury and did not return. Brent Trice filled in during the second half. …Sophomore defensive end Steven Stone, making his first career start Saturday, posted his first quarterback sack. …Commodores making their first appearances in a college game Saturday included tailback Kennard Reeves, center Joey Bailey linebackers John Stokes and Nathan Campbell, defensive ends Theron Kadri and Reilly Lauer and cornerback Alan Strong. Senior defensive tackle Gabe Hall made his first career start.