Fresh off a five-game conference win streak, the no. 12 College of William and Mary journeyed west to James Madison University Saturday with visions of a keynote win to clinch the program’s first playoff berth since 2004 and firmly establish the Tribe among the nation’s top teams. However, the no. 1 Dukes showed the College just how far they still must progress to join the FCS elite, in handing the Tribe a thorough 48-24 defeat.
“They’re a very good team; they executed very well and we were not able to stop them defensively,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “I don’t think we played our best today, but I give a lot of credit to JMU for that.”
The College had no answer for senior quarterback Rodney Landers and an efficient JMU offense, as the Dukes racked up 540 total yards while scoring on eight of ten possessions. Landers tallied 360 total yards and four touchdowns as he led his squad to the CAA title with the victory.
Offensively, the Tribe struggled against a quick JMU defense, managing only 294 yards, a good portion of which came after the game had been decided. Senior quarterback Jake Phillips, frequently under heavy pressure, completed 16 of 30 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns to lead the College, while freshman tailback Jonathan Grimes was held to a mere 49 yards rushing on nine carries.
“Their front four really sets the tone for them,” said Phillips. “We went out there and moved the ball a couple times but we had a couple drops and penalties hurt us.”
For the initial 30 minutes, at least, the Tribe remained tenuously in the game.
With JMU receiving the opening kickoff, Landers capped a 10 play, 63-yard drive with a strike to tight end Mike Caussin for a four yard touchdown. Then, after the teams traded punts, Landers hit wide receiver Marcus Turner for a 50-yard score shortly into the second quarter to put the Dukes up 14-0.
Despite the early deficit, Phillips rallied the Tribe on the College’s ensuing possession. After the JMU kickoff went out of bounds, the senior capped a successful drive with a 16-yard touchdown strike to Grimes to pull to 14-7.
After Landers again connected with Turner on a long touchdown pass and the teams traded field goals, the College went into the halftime break down 24-10.
“So far this season we’ve been a good second half team and we were pretty confident going into the second half,” Phillips said. “We were getting the ball first and if we put a score on the board we were only down by a touchdown.”
However, the College’s first possession of the third quarter stalled in JMU territory. Facing fourth and five at the Dukes’ 41 yard line, Laycock opted to punt, only the third time in ten games this season the Tribe has not scored on their initial drive of the second half.
The decision would prove fatal. JMU responded to the stop by scoring on their next four possessions to pull away decisively and turn the game into a rout. Three straight touchdowns pushed the margin to 45-10, ending the College’s hopes.
A pair of fourth quarter touchdown receptions from Chase Hill, the latter off the arm of junior quarterback R.J. Archer, provided the final Tribe points in garbage time.
“It’s tough when they play mistake free ball,” Phillips said. “It’s tough when you don’t get any turnovers, but we left too many plays on the field. [I] just wished we could have gotten out of here with a win.”