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JMU preparing to play Villanova for first time since thrilling game in 2019

Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 3:52 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - The No. 3 James Madison football team is preparing to host No. 11 Villanova in a top-25 matchup Saturday afternoon at Bridgeforth Stadium.

It will be the first matchup between the two teams since the 2019 season, when they played a thrilling game in Harrisonburg. The Dukes scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 24-17 deficit in what was a contest between two teams ranked in the top five at that time. MJ Hampton’s 83-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Dukes the lead for good as they defeated Villanova, 38-24, en route to an undefeated record in CAA play and FCS National Runner-Up finish.

“It was a crazy back and forth game,” said JMU head coach Curt Cignetti, when discussing the 2019 game. “No question about it, two really good football teams. I thought that was a big day for our team, the way we stepped up in the fourth quarter and took that game over. And I learned something about our team that day, what kind of team we could be.”

This year’s matchup is scheduled for a 2 p.m. kickoff Saturday in Harrisonburg. JMU and Villanova have played every year since the Dukes joined the Colonial Athletic Association, except during the 2021 spring season which featured a schedule impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. James Madison leads the all-time series, 17-11, and has won five straight against the Wildcats.

“It’s going to be a very hard-fought, loud, physical football game,” said JMU redshirt sophomore running back Latrele Palmer. “We just gotta keep our composure when things go wrong. And then when things go right, also keep our composure and do the right things.”

Cignetti added: “This is definitely our toughest challenge to date, in my mind, no question.”

Curt Cignetti Press Conference Notes - Tuesday, October 5

-Cignetti praised the play of Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith. Smith has thrown for 820 yards and 10 touchdowns through the Wildcats’ first four games this season. He threw for 387 yards, three TDs, and three interceptions during the game at JMU in 2019.

-Cignetti said playing Villanova is “definitely our toughest challenge to date in my mind.” The Dukes enter the matchup after back-to-back road wins against ranked opponents (Weber State, New Hampshire).

-The Dukes are preparing for a stout Villanova rushing defense that’s surrendering just 42 yards per game on the ground.

-Cignetti on JMU leading rusher Latrele Palmer: “He’s running with good pad level, he’s running really hard.” Palmer has rushed for 276 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 6.1 yards per carry during the 2021 fall season.

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