No. 19 James Madison (5-2, 2-1 CAA) dominated the third quarter with a scoring advantage of 21-3 en route to a 38-31 victory over rival Richmond (2-4, 0-2 CAA) in a Colonial Athletic Association game on Saturday afternoon at Bridgeforth Stadium/Zane Showker Field.
Redshirt junior Dejor Simmons opened the second half by returning the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, the first kick return by JMU since Scotty McGee in 2008. On the Dukes’ next possession, sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong found freshman receiver Brandon Ravenel deep downfield on a 71-yard pass before redshirt senior Quintin Hunter capped the drive with a 9-yard rush for a touchdown.
Later in the third quarter, redshirt sophomore Deane Cheatham caught a 16-yard pass from Birdsong to give the Dukes a 28-9 lead going into the final period.
In the fourth quarter, however, Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss threw a quick touchdown pass to Seth Fisher, pulling Richmond within 12 early with 14:13 left on the clock. After a 46-yard field goal by redshirt senior Cameron Starke on the next JMU possession, the Dukes’ again held a two-possession lead with 11:42 to go.
Richmond went 3 and out on its next drive, and a 14-yard punt gave JMU the ball at the Spiders’ 39-yard line. Birdsong immediately connected with redshirt junior Daniel Brown down the middle of the field for a quick touchdown, giving the Dukes a 22-point lead with 11:14 left in the game.
Richmond, however, would not stop fighting as the Spiders drove 75 yards on five plays, allowing just over a minute of clock to tick off. The drive ended with a 15-yard touchdown run by Jacobi Green, but the ensuing two-point conversion attempt by Strauss was incomplete.
On their next two possessions, the Spiders scored another nine points off a seven-yard touchdown pass to Ben Edwards (two-point conversion attempt again incomplete) and a 23-yard field goal to cut the deficit to just seven points. However, the Spiders’ onside-kick attempt was recovered on the first bounce by Ravenel to clinch the JMU victory.
JMU struggled to get off the field on defense, allowing Richmond to convert 10 of 20 third downs from an average distance of over 8 yards away. That helped the Spiders possess the ball for 34:18 minutes while Strauss completed 41 of 64 attempts for 423 yards, setting both Richmond and stadium records for attempts and completions in a game. Birdsong on the other hand completed 16 of his 23 attempts for 262 yards. Both quarterbacks threw two touchdowns and an interception.
Richmond opened the game with a 14-play drive that ended with a 40-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. But the Dukes answered with a near-flawless drive of their own as Birdsong completed all five pass attempts and ran a touchdown in from the 1-yard line.
Richmond added a 39-yard field goal midway through the second quarter to account for a 7-6 halftime lead for JMU. The teams combined for just 303 total yards in the first half before a change in production in the second half churned out a combined 530 yards.
JMU earned the victory despite being held under 100 rushing yards for the first time this season with 84 total. Richmond led total yardage 487-346.
Birdsong spread the ball to seven receivers with Hunter collecting a team-high five receptions for 54 yards. Birdsong’s 71-yard completion to Ravenel was a career long.
UR receiver Ben Edwards tied Victor Cruz’s Bridgeforth Stadium record with 13 receptions while Reggie Diggs added eight catches for 136 yards.
Junior Dean Marlowe registered a career-high 12 tackles to pace the JMU defense while adding two breakups. Redshirt-freshman Kwe’shon Williams added nine tackles, three breakups and an interception return of 35 yards.
JMU will have its bye weekend Oct. 19 and will return to action on Oct. 26 at William and Mary at 3:30 p.m.