Dukes fall short to Blue Hens in OT

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University came up short in trying to get its first Colonial Athletic Association college football win of the season on Saturday.

The Dukes were stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, to give the Blue Hens a 30-23 overtime victory at Bridgeforth Stadium.

“That was an exciting game I’m sure for the fans and for the conference,” JMU head coach Everett Withers said. “You hope you get a chance to get in those kind of games and go win them. Here’s what I do is I take something from them. I know we can’t make the mistakes we made and beat a good football team whether it’s in overtime or regulation, and we made too many today.”

The game had plenty of twists and turns, but it all came down to overtime and one final play.

Delaware needed only five plays to score on the opening possession of overtime. On third-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Delaware quarterback Trent Hurley connected with Jerel Harrison to give the Blue Hens a 30-23 lead.

The moved the ball to the 1-yard line on six plays. JMU quarterback Vad Lee pitched the ball to true freshman Taylor Woods on the option and Woods was stopped just short of the goal line. The play was reviewed by instant replay but upheld as the Blue Hens celebrated on the field.

“They sent the [defensive lineman] on the edge, so I just pitched it off [to Woods],” Lee said. “So hopefully we get good blocking and hopefully he got in, but the ref said he wasn’t.”

The Dukes (2-3, 0-2 CAA) trailed 26-16 in the fourth quarter, but rallied in what was a wild finish to regulation. JMU went 77 yards in 13 plays. Lee connected with DeAndre Smith for a 3-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 26-23 with 5:15 remaining.

The Dukes recovered an onside-kick, but were called for offsides. On Delaware’s next offensive play, JMU linebacker Gage Steele intercepted a Hurley pass at the Delaware 45.

It was the first interception of the Warren County graduate’s career.

“I just read it as a run at first, and then I saw the high hats on the lineman and dropped back as fast as I could,” Steele said. “I eventually ended up sinking right where he was throwing it. I just put my hand out there and kind of stuck to it.”

The Dukes drove to the Delaware 22, but had to settle for a 43-yard field goal by Connor Arnone to tie it at 16-16 with 2:55 left.

The Blue Hens struck quickly to retake the lead. Hurley threw an 86-yard touchdown pass to Harrison on a third-and-6 from the Delaware 14 for a 23-16 lead with 1:37 remaining.

“I think they were in man coverage there, and I just got open and made a play for my team,” Harrison said.

“We were in man coverage and I think [JMU cornerback] Taylor [Reynolds] had a slip, and I guess we had bad pursuit to the ball and they scored,” JMU senior safety Dean Marlowe said.

The Dukes came right back. JMU went 61 yards in just seven plays. Lee went 4-for-5 on the drive through the air. The redshirt junior transfer from Georgia Tech took it in from the 2-yard line to tie the game with 20 seconds left in regulation.

“To get it to overtime that’s a little bit of a victory for us, because we didn’t play well enough to get it to overtime — but we did,” Withers said. “And we had a shot there at the end.”

Things couldn’t have started off any worse for JMU’s defense. A 75-yard screen touchdown pass from Hurley to Jalen Randolph gave the Blue Hens a 6-0 lead just 15 seconds into the game.

JMU moved the ball on its opening possession, but the drive stalled at the Delaware 13, and the Blue Hens blocked a 33-yard field goal attempt by Arnone with 10:20 left in the first quarter.

The Dukes hit paydirt on their next drive with their longest drive of the season, both in terms of time and plays. The fast-paced JMU offense went 75 yards on 19 plays taking up 7:28 on the clock.

A 5-yard touchjdown pass from Lee to Daniel Brown tied the game at 6-6, after the Dukes missed an extra point, with 25 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Blue Hens were able to take the lead again late in the first half. Delaware put together a 79-yard drive on 10 plays. Wide receiver Michael Johnson scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 2:27 left in the first half for a 13-6 lead.

JMU’s bad play on special teams continued as punter Gunnar Kane’s punt was short and then bounced backward for a net of minus 14 yards with 20 seconds left in the half. The Dukes dodged a bullet as the Blue Hens were unable to move the ball before halftime.

Wes Hills led the Blue Hens with 136 yards rushing on 17 carries. Hurley threw for 295 yards on 18-for-29 passing.

The win moves the 25th-ranked Blue Hens to 3-1, and maybe more importantly makes them 1-0 in the CAA.

“Obviously we’re thrilled to be able to come down here in an unbelievable atmosphere to face a really challenging team and find a way to win,” Delaware head coach Dave Brock said. “I’m thrilled with how we played. I’m thrilled with the win. It gives us something to build off of and put us in a situation where we can grow and move forward.”

Lee threw for 252 yards on 25-for-44 passing, and ran for 86 yards on 19 carries. Steele and Reynolds had seven tackles each to lead the JMU defense.

Withers said the Dukes need to learn from the loss and continue to work hard and improve.

“I went in that locker room and I told our kids, ‘I hope you hurt. I hope you hurt real bad, I do,'” Withers said. “I hurt real bad, but tomorrow I get a chance to go back and maybe fix some of those things, try to fix some of those things.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to coach this football team and get better.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 166, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com