Dukes poised in road victory

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — Tie game, 55 seconds left — no problem for James Madison University’s football team.

The Dukes, who like to run the up-tempo style, faced that dilemma against Albany on Saturday and drove down the field for a game-winning field goal to pull out a 31-28 Colonial Athletic Conference victory.

“Going down the field in 55 seconds is not really a big chore for us,” JMU head coach Everett Withers said in his weekly press conference. “I think we do it enough in practice every day. Our offense practices like maybe 10, 15 two-minute drills in practice every day. It’s really not something that’s unusual for us. We felt like we had plenty of time, we had timeouts to use, so that was important. We just felt like we needed to get in field goal range enough to be able to kick the field goal and win the game.”

The Dukes needed just six plays to set up kicker Ryan Maglio’s 34-yard field goal in the final seconds.

Withers said JMU quarterback Vad Lee is comfortable in those situations. He said the Georgia Tech transfer is getting more and more comfortable with JMU’s offense.

“I think he has a lot of confidence in the other 10 guys on the field. I think the other 10 guys have a lot of confidence in him,” Withers said of Lee. “I think when you have that confidence in each other, I think that leads to the ability to go out and execute. Those guys all feel good with each other when they’re out there on the field. To me, that’s what you got to have. You got to have guys that have a lot of confidence and a lot of trust in each other that you’re going to do what you need to do to go win the game.”

A GRACEFUL SAVE: The game-winning field goal almost didn’t happen.

Redshirt freshman Blaine Stewart, son of the late former West Virginia University head football coach Bill Stewart, bobbled the snap on the field goal attempt. Blaine Stewart quickly grabbed the football and threw it at an eligible receiver for an incomplete pass, which brought up third down.

“Blaine Stewart did a great job,” Withers said. “It was a heads up play for a guy that’s a coach’s son that understands the game.”

Withers said the Dukes made sure to leave a little extra time on the clock in case something like that happened. The first attempt took place with 10 seconds left in the game, and it worked out well for JMU.

Maglio was kicking for the first time for the Dukes. In an overtime loss last week to Delaware, Connor Arnone missed an extra point and had a field goal blocked so Withers decided to give Maglio a chance.

The redshirt junior made the most of his chance by drilling the game-winning field goal.

“He’s one of those guys that just has a role on your team, because he works — he’s got that work ethic,” Withers said of Maglio. “We’ve seen a lot of really good kicks from him in practice, and it was just an opportunity for him. We felt like we could take something off of Connor Arnone. Connor’s done a really good job for us on kickoffs, and we wanted to make sure that that doesn’t falter, so keep him in that role and take some of the PAT and field goals off of him [to Maglio]. Ryan’s done a good job, and hopefully he’ll continue to do that.”

TRIO OF MVPS: Withers said that each week they give out a most valuable player award for each game, and this week it went to three running backs.

JMU’s Jauan Latney, Khalid Abdullah and John Miller each earned the honor. The trio of running backs combined for 127 yards on 26 carries and three touchdowns against Albany, which led the CAA in rushing defense.

Withers said they did a great job with getting yards after contact.

“The reason they got the most valuable player is 82 percent of their yards came after first contact, which is unbelievable,” Withers said. “Guys were getting hit and falling forward and getting two or three yards.”

Withers said he feels like it’s extra important to try to establish the run on the road, and he was very proud of their effort against a very stout Albany defense.

“We put a challenge to our running backs because we knew they were going to have a bunch of guys in the box,” Withers said. “We knew there was going to be a free guy that they were going to have to account for, and they did a nice job.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com