HARRISONBURG, Va., – No. 23 James Madison football celebrated Homecoming weekend with a 31-21 victory over No. 20 Villanova. The Dukes improved to 6-3 overall and 3-2 in Colonial Athletic Association action while the Wildcats dropped to 4-5 overall and 3-3 against CAA foes.
Redshirt senior Dae'Quan Scott tied the JMU career record for rushing touchdowns (32) on his first quarter score. His 11-yard touchdown run to give the Dukes a 14-7 lead was the third play of the drive that began with a 50-yard hookup between sophomore Michael Birdsong and freshman Brandon Ravenel.
Redshirt senior Stephon Robertson posted 16 tackles on the day for his 24th career double-digit tackles game, including five solos and two sacks. His total tied both his career single-game tackles record and pushed his single-season tackles to 111, which ties his personal season-long high and increased his career-total tackles to 415. Redshirt junior Titus Till and redshirt freshman Gage Steele each posted nine tackles.
The Dukes posted 364 yards of offense, with 141 yards on the ground and 223 in the air. Birdsong completed 20 passes on 29 attempts for 207 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Redshirt junior Daniel Brown picked up eight of Birdsong’s passes for 94 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown pass to put the Dukes up 24-14 in the third quarter.
Prior to the fourth quarter, JMU led Villanova in total yardage 365 to 209. The Wildcats, however, totaled 164 yards in the fourth quarter while trying to mount their comeback. Overall, they compiled 227 passing yards, 117 of which came in the final 15 minutes of play, and 146 rushing yards.
Sophomore John Robertson completed 20 of his 37 pass attempts for 219 yards, including two touchdowns, but was sacked seven times by the JMU defense. He also threw an interception in the red zone, picked off by junior DeAndre' Smith. Smith’s first career interception resulted in an 86-yard touchdown, third-longest in JMU history.
JMU went 6-of-15 on third-down conversions while Villanova was held to 3-of-14. The Wildcats claimed a slight margin in the possession game, holding the ball 30:46 of the game compared to the Dukes’ 29:14 minutes of possession.
The Dukes struck first with a 6-yard rushing touchdown by freshman Khalid Abdullah to cap a 12-play, 70-yard drive that ticked 4:31 off the clock. The Wildcats countered on their next possession with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Gulyas after a 45-yard kickoff return to start the five-play drive.
On the following JMU possession, Birdsong threw a deep 50-yard pass to Ravenel on the first play of the game before a 14-yard pass to redshirt junior Josh Hogan set up the 11-yard rushing touchdown by Scott.
Villanova tied the game at 14-all on their first possession of the second quarter, a drive that consisted of five straight first-down plays. The touchdown came on an 8-yard dump pass to Gulyas from Gary Underwood, who took the handoff from Robertson.
Once again, JMU broke the tie on its ensuing drive thanks to a 30-yard field goal by redshirt senior Cameron Starke. The score capped a 12-play, 55-yard drive from the JMU 32 after a 31-yard kickoff return by redshirt junior Dejor Simmons. The scoring drive ate 6:09 off the clock and gave the Dukes a 17-14 lead.
On the second JMU possession of the third quarter, JMU worked 90 yards down field on 15 plays and scored on a 34-yard pass to Brown, taking the 24-14 lead with 3:52 remaining in the quarter.
The Wildcats opened the fourth quarter with a 46-yard field goal attempt, but the kick went wide left and resulted in no points on the board. After back-and-forth three-and-outs, Villanova battled into the red zone with six minutes remaining, but Smith’s pick-six put JMU up by 17.
Nova regrouped and put together a 10-play, 76-yard drive to cut the JMU lead to 31-21 with 1:16 remaining but was unable to come any closer.
No. 23 JMU hits the road for a 12:30 p.m. match-up at No.16 New Hampshire on Saturday, Nov. 9.