Villanova win fueled JMU's return to Frisco

James Madison's win over Villanova on October 12 helped fuel the Dukes' run to the FCS National...
James Madison's win over Villanova on October 12 helped fuel the Dukes' run to the FCS National Championship.(WHSV)
Published: Jan. 7, 2020 at 5:59 PM EST
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James Madison's run to the FCS National Championship game was fueled by a victory at Bridgeforth Stadium on October 12.

More than 25,000 fans packed into Bridgeforth Stadium to see No. 2 JMU host then-No. 5 Villanova in a top-five showdown. The Wildcats came to Harrisonburg with an unbeaten record and gave the Dukes all they could handle.

"It was massive," said JMU redshirt senior quarterback Ben DiNucci. "Really our first big game of the season."

The Wildcats carried a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter before JMU stormed back thanks to a few, crucial defensive plays. On the first play of the fourth quarter, John Daka forced a fumble which was recovered by Rashad Robinson. A few plays later, DiNucci hit Brandon Polk for a game-tying 26-yard touchdown pass.

"I think that showed our resiliency and our resolve and our will," said JMU head coach Curt Cignetti. "With the game on the line, down going into the fourth quarter, the way that we stepped it up in all the phases and made the plays and made it happen."

Villanova answered Polk's TD with a drive deep into JMU territory. On a 2nd and 6, MJ Hampton picked off a Daniel Smith pass and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown to give the Dukes a 31-24 lead. After a missed field goal by Villanova, JMU added another score on a 69-yard TD run by freshman running back Latrele Palmer.

"It really tested us and gave us that experience to come back in a game," said JMU senior center Mac Patrick. "Have our defense pick up our offense that was kind of struggling that game."

The Dukes rallied with 21 points in the fourth quarter for a 38-24 victory and forced Villanova to commit four turnovers in the fourth quarter. The Dukes believe the victory was a turning point in the season and helped them build momentum toward a run to the FCS National Championship.

"After that, it was kind of one of those deals where like alright we can do this, We've got the team," said DiNucci. "We have got the guys. We get everything clicking on all cylinders and this could be a pretty special year."

JMU will meet North Dakota State Saturday, January 11 in the FCS National Championship game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. Kickoff time is scheduled for 12 p.m. (Eastern) with TV coverage on WHSV (ABC).