With a no. 5 national ranking and a top-rated defense, William and Mary was determined to end its five-game losing streak to James Madison.
A sellout crowd on Homecoming at Zable Stadium was ready as well.
After a quiet first half, the Tribe quickly raced to a commanding three-possession lead, defeating JMU 24-3 to move its record to 6-1 and 3-1 in the CAA.
It was the College’s first win over the Dukes (2-5, 0-4 CAA) since a 2004 victory in Harrisonburg.
“I thought we played very hard today,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “I think we were a little rusty coming out of the [bye week] offensively, but defensively we were right on all day.”
Traditionally, the Dukes have beaten the College with their ground game, but the College defense held the Dukes to just 150 rushing yards Saturday. The Tribe also held an anemic JMU passing game to only 66 yards through the air.
“One of the keys going into this game was to not just stop, but eliminate the running game and make them one-dimensional,” senior defensive end Adrian Tracy said. “We thought we would have a pretty good chance to win if we could stop the run, and we did.”
Tracy wreaked havoc all day, supplying 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Tracy has been spectacular in the last four games, and he now leads the CAA with seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
While the defense came out firing on all cylinders, the Tribe offense needed a few quarters to shake off the bye-week hangover. However, thanks to impressive performances from senior quarterback R.J. Archer and sophomore tailback Jonathan Grimes, it didn’t matter in the end.
While Archer looked out of sync at the beginning of the game due to several mental errors and an early interception, the quarterback regained his composure in the latter stages of the first half. Archer finished with 127 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Meanwhile, Grimes had an excellent day on the ground, rushing for a career high 158 yards, while junior Courtland Marriner pitched in with another 62.
With 4:41 remaining in the opening quarter, the Tribe offense showed its first signs of life. After receiving the handoff at the Tribe 31-yard line, Grimes blew through the JMU defense for a crucial 61-yard gain. The rush play was the longest allowed by the JMU defense this season, and Grimes’ longest run of the year.
After an incomplete pass, Archer rolled to the right and completed a beautiful play action pass to senior tight end Rob Varno to give the Tribe a 7-0 lead.
Six minutes later, JMU capped a methodical drive of its own with field goal by Dixon Wright. But the score would provide James Madison with its only points of the game.
Throughout the remainder of the first half, the two teams struggled to produce any meaningful offensive plays until senior kicker Brian Pate drilled a 34-yard field goal as time expired to give the College a 10-3 advantage going into the half.
The field goal drive was made possible by two timely runs by Archer. After surveying the defense and the lack of open receivers, the quarterback used his legs to create some much needed offensive momentum.
“The scrambles that [Archer] made at the end of the first half that got us in field goal position were big-time plays,” Laycock said. “He can move around and do a lot of things. He’s a very gifted quarterback.”
After the break, the Tribe handed the ball over to Grimes and Marriner and began to pull away. The College scored two touchdowns in the second half, the first coming on an 18 yard completion from Archer to freshman tight end Alex Gottlieb. Grimes then sealed the win with a nine-yard scamper with 5:45 remaining in the game.
The win proved particularly meaningful for the Tribe seniors, who had never before beaten JMU.
“It was definitely a sweet one. It’s one of the best rivalries we have here, and it’s a team we have struggled with the past few years,” Archer said. “We just played our game, controlled the game up front, and that’s what it came down to.”