WHSV Sports Presents: Remembering previous James Madison, Virginia football matchups

WHSV Sports Presents: Revisiting previous JMU, UVA matchups
Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 8:38 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - It’s 3:45 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, a few hours before the James Madison football team opens the 2023 regular season against Bucknell.

In the adjacent parking lot at Bridgeforth Stadium, it’s hard to miss hundreds of tailgaters enjoying good food and company ahead of the Dukes taking the field.

Some of those people taking in the atmosphere include JMU alums Mike Fornadel, Bobby Fralin, and Joe Carico. As they look around, they immediately notice how the campus has transformed and what it’s turned into compared to four decades earlier when they were students at JMU, playing on the football team.

Fornadel, Fralin, and Carico are spectators these days alongside the rest of JMU nation. However, rewind to 1983 and all three were competing on the field. All three were apart of the last JMU team that took on Virginia. The drought will end Saturday when the schools faceoff.

It’ll be the fourth time JMU faces UVA. The first time the schools played one another was in 1979 with Virginia winning 69-9. The Dukes football program had only existed for seven seasons. The first scholarship class wouldn’t come until 1980.

“My wife’s uncle was one of the coach’s at UVA,” said Carico. “It was probably not pretty conversation between the two of us after the ballgame.”

However, that blowout loss set the stage for the Dukes when they faced the Cavaliers in 1982. JMU, now a Division I-AA program, featured players like Gary Clarke, Charles Haley, and Mike Arrington. It was a talented group. Still, JMU wasn’t given much of a chance to win the game.

“We were definitely the underdogs,” said Fornadel. “All the press back then was done in newspapers. We were expected not to compete with them.”

However, the Dukes had belief they could compete with Virginia.

“Coach [Challace] McMillin was the original coach for the program. He wanted us to believe in ourselves and what we could do when we got over there,” said Fornadel. “Obviously we knew we were going against a higher division team. Believing in yourself and what he taught us and how our program was run is what we brought into Charlottesville.”

Fralin remembers the coaching staff doing a great job preparing the team for that second matchup in 1982.

“One of the things the coaches talked about was that it would be loud,” said Fralin. “We actually played music during practice so we were prepared for the game and we could make our calls for the defense.”

JMU turned to backup quarterback Jon Rodde with starter Tom Bowles out with a shoulder injury. The Dukes snatched early momentum when Clarke hauled in an 80-yard touchdown pass.

“After the first series, we knew we could play,” said Carico.

“I was on the kickoff return team so the opening kickoff, for me, I felt that way,” said Fralin. “Each guy had someone there to block. I focused on my guy. I put him on the ground. From that point forward, we could beat these guys.”

Following the touchdown pass to Clarke, linebacker Mike Thurman intercepted a Virginia pass and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown to put JMU in the lead 14-3.

However, UVA would rally to take a 17-14 lead into the fourth quarter. but u-v-a would rally to take a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter.

The Dukes didn’t quit. Rodde led JMU down the field for a go-ahead score to give JMU a 21-17 lead. They’d win by the same score, giving the program its first win against a Division I-A program, now known as the Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS.

The two schools would square off again the next season. Clark dazzled with punt returns of 87 and 89 yards.
Unlike the previous year, the Dukes came up short, losing 21-14. Unfortunately, turnovers doomed the Dukes. Some say JMU should’ve defeated UVA in 1983 as well.

“It’s not legend. It’s fact. We should’ve won,” said Fralin. “We made mistakes and didn’t win. Even with the mistakes, we were in a position to win and we didn’t. We beat ourselves from that perspective.”

Since that matchup in 1983, much has changed at JMU.

As fans and alums watch the Dukes step foot in Charlottesville, they’ll watch a team that’s a 6.5 point favorite, as opposed to the underdog like previous matchups.

“Look at what this place has done for this community,” said Carico. “When I started here in ‘74, we had maybe 4,000 people here. Now, we have more than 4,000 tailgating.”

Fornadel understands the early matchups against UVA help put JMU on a national stage.

“Dr. [Ronald] Carrier always said, ‘This school would be put on the map by its sports programs,’” said Fornadel. “I believe his sentiments are coming true to this day.”