The James Madison football team’s comeback drive fell just short as the Dukes dropped a 35-33 decision at Akron on Saturday night.
JMU fell to 1-1 on the season while Akron improved to 1-1 in 2013.
With 1:19 remaining and down 35-33, the Dukes began a 12-play drive at their own 20-yard line. Sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong (Matoaca, Va./Matoaca) connected to redshirt sophomore Deane Cheatham (Mechanicsville, Va./Hanover) for a seven-yard pass, but two quick plays came up empty. Coming out of the final timeout, redshirt senior Dae’Quan Scott (Staunton, Va./Robert E. Lee) gained four rushing yards to the JMU31, but an unsportsmanlike conduct call backed the Dukes up to their own 16-yard line.
Birdsong battled and connected with Cheatham once again for a five-yard pick-up before an incomplete pass to freshman Rashard Davis (Charlottesville, Va./Charlottesville) stopped the clock. Scott pushed ahead again, rushing for nine yards and the first down on the JMU 30. A 21-yard strike to redshirt freshman Rhakeem Stallings (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Smith) moved the Dukes into Akron territory and a follow-up 13-yard pass to redshirt senior Arlandis Harvey (Oakton, Va./Flint Hill) gave JMU the first down on the Akron 36-yard line.
Harvey locked up with Birdsong once more for a nine-yard pass but, without a first down, confusion on the field allowed the clock to wind down before JMU get take a snap.
The Dukes possessed the ball for 38:20 and ran 94 plays for 498 yards, including two fourth-down conversions in three attempts. The Zips held the ball for just 21:40 and ran 57 plays for 356 yards.
Birdsong recorded his first 300-yard passing game as he notched 310 yards on 29-of-42 completions, including three touchdown passes. Scott rushed for 107 yards with one touchdown and caught six passes for 18 yards and a touchdown.
To open the game, the Dukes drove 72 yards downfield to set up the three-yard pass from Birdsong to Scott who was waiting in the end zone. JMU took the 6-0 lead after the ensuing attempt at a two-point conversion was stopped short of the goal line.
On the kickoff, the ball hopped away from the Akron returner and following the scramble, redshirt senior Pete Rose (Amherst, Va./Amherst) came up with the ball for the Dukes at the Akron 28-yard line. After an 11-yard loss on first and 10, Scott gained two back off a pass before Birdsong rushed for six yards. He then connected with junior DeAndre’ Smith (District Heights, Md./Wise) on a 30-yard pass to put JMU on the Akron one-yard line. Birdsong handed the ball off to Scott, who ran it up the middle for his second strike of the day and a 13-0 lead for JMU.
Akron’s first offensive series went three-and-out after Brandon Lee notched his first sack of the year, but the Dukes were unable to convert. On the Zips’ fifth offensive play of the game, redshirt freshman Kwe’shon Williams (Norfolk, Va./Norview) laid out for an interception to give JMU possession once again as they closed the quarter with 28 plays and 136 yards gained to Akron’s five plays and 10 yards gained.
The Zips started to build momentum in the second quarter, as they drove 77 yards into the end zone. In the waning moments of the first half, a fumble by redshirt freshman Jainard Lambert (Midlothian, Va./Cosby) and an Akron recovery put the Zips on the JMU 16-yard line. They scored 1:36 later and a successful PAT gave Akron the 14-13 lead.
In the third quarter, JMU took a chance on fourth down and a pass interference call in the end zone gave the Dukes new life. A series of penalties, however, stalled the drive, bringing in Starke to send a 45-yard field goal through the uprights, giving the Dukes a 16-14 lead.
Akron responded in the next series as a free play resulted in a 68-yard touchdown-pass down the Akron sideline, giving the Zips the 21-16 lead. JMU answered in the next drive as Birdsong dropped a five-yard pass into redshirt junior Daniel Brown’s (Windsor, Va./Isle of Wight) arms in the left corner of the end zone, and Cheatham converted the two-point attempt to put the Dukes on top 24-21.
The Zips did not wait long as a long run set up a three-yard touchdown strike, to again give Akron the lead (28-27). To close the third quarter, JMU moved down the field to the Akron 18 and set up the 29-yard field goal attempt by Starke to put the Dukes down by just 1.
A series of long passes by Akron culminated in a 24-yard pass into the back of the end zone and the Zips took the 35-27 lead with 6:25 left on the clock.
On third and long in the opening moments of the fourth quarter, Birdsong connected with Brown on a 56-yard strike to bring the Dukes to the Akron 18-yard line. JMU pulled to within two when Birdsong connected with redshirt sophomore Dominick Richards (Tamaqua, Pa./Marian Catholic) but, after a failed two-point conversion, the score was left at 35-33 in favor of Akron.