For the first time in the long history of this vibrant rivalry, William and Mary entered James Madison’s Bridgeforth Stadium as the No. 1 team in the country. 60 minutes of football later, they learned that designation would last for only a few more days, as the Dukes (5-5, 2-5 CAA) used 265 yards of rushing to upset the College (7-3, 5-2 CAA) 30-24.
Predominantly using wide receiver Dae’Quan Scott to operate a wildcat formation that kept the Tribe defense off balance all afternoon, James Madison attempted only a single pass in the contest. Scott finished with 149 yards and three touchdowns on 149 carries, including a game-winning 30-yard sprint in the fourth quarter.
“Obviously, I am disappointed in the outcome,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “I thought we did some things pretty well, especially offensively, but I am very disappointed in our play defensively. I’m sure they had a lot to do with it. They came in with a good plan and executed it and they ran through our tackles. I’m disappointed and I know we can play better, but I was encouraged with some things.”
In previous weeks against top-ranked CAA foes such as Villanova and Delaware, the Tribe defense had completely shut down the opposing line of scrimmage, and entered the game as the third-rated run defense in the conference. But that effort was largely futile Saturday, against a Dukes offense averaging only 16.8 points a game on the season.
The College wasted little time in getting on the board early, returning the game’s opening kickoff out to midfield, before embarking on an efficient nine-play touchdown drive that put the squad up 7-0 less than five minutes into the game. Junior tailback Jonathan Grimes picked up 30 of his 73 yards on the possession, while senior quarterback Mike Callahan, making his return from a shoulder injury aggravated Oct. 30 at North Carolina, punctuated the drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Alex Gottlieb.
The College then added a 22-yard field goal from redshirt freshman Drake Kuhn, while the defense largely kept the JMU wildcat quiet in the opening quarter. With Scott under center, the Dukes were able to gain yardage, but not points for the opening 29 minutes of the contest.
But with time ticking down on the first half, that changed. Scott led a 67-yard touchdown drive, that he finished by sprinting 16-yards into the end zone with one minute remaining.
The Dukes were not finished. The Tribe went three and out on its ensuing possession, and lined up to punt, when D.J. Bryant flew in to stuff the attempt from senior David Mille. Bryant picked up the loose ball and lunged across the goalline to give the Dukes a 14-10 halftime lead.
That momentum continued after the break. With Scott again running the offense, James Madison took the second half kickoff and marched 71 yards down the field, running the ball 14 straight times. Scott punctuated the possession with a three-yard touchdown run that allowed the Dukes a commanding 21-10 lead.
Then it was Callahan’s turn, and he wasted little time in responding. It took the senior only three plays to pilot the College into the James Madison red zone, completing a pair of passes to senior Chase Hill and sophomore Ryan Moody to pick up the bulk of the yardage. On a key third down and seven at the Dukes’ eight-yard line, Callahan was sacked, but Kuhn managed to drill the field goal attempt from 31 yards.
When asked after the game about his team’s inability to score touchdowns in the red zone early, Laycock did not appear fazed.
“They play well on defense, and they are one of the top-ranked teams on defense,” Laycock said. “That’s going to happen sometimes down here and you have to do what you have to do. We are just hanging together on offense, and not having Cally [in practice this week] was tough.”
With the deficit to 21-13, Head Coach Jimmye Laycock reached into his playbook for a bit of trickery. Kuhn lofted a gorgeous onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, as sophomore cornerback B.W. Webb skied to catch the ball over a stunned James Madison return unit.
Callahan again took advantage. The Tribe took six plays to march to the James Madison 17, before the quarterback hit Moody over the middle. The sophomore wideout evaded his defender and strolled into the end zone to cut the Dukes’ lead to 21-19. Laycock went for the two-point conversion, where Callahan found sophomore D.J. Mangas to even the score.
But again the Tribe had no answer for Scott. As efficiently as Callahan moved the ball offensively for the College, Scott was even better for James Madison , putting the Dukes back on top with a 30-yard touchdown run just 2:48 later.
“I thought we would play better defensively,” Laycock said. “We had been playing well against North Carolina and New Hampshire, and we had been playing good, solid defense, running to the ball and tackling. I don’t know whether it was them or us today, but it wasn’t the same way we had been playing.”
A late Kuhn field goal and several defensive stands would give the College a final chance to pull ahead, but Callahan’s last-chance drive stalled just into James Madison territory. On fourth and 11 from the JMU 35, the senior’s pass towards senior wideout Chase Hill fell incomplete.
The loss will drop the College from the top spot in the FCS rankings, the second straight week the team in that position has fallen. But the squad retains a chance to split the CAA title with a win over Richmond next week, coupled with a Delaware loss to Villanova.
“We have some good teams in this league and there is a fine line between winning and not winning, and fortunately we have been on the right side more times than not,” Laycock said. “But we know good and well that no matter who you are playing, its going to be a tough game.”