Dukes top Wildcats, earn playoff bye

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University scored in many different ways on Saturday.

The Dukes offense, defense and special teams combined to help JMU pull out a 38-29 victory over Villanova. The win gave JMU a share of the Colonial Athletic Association title.

On Sunday it was announced JMU will be the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. The Dukes will have a bye this week in the first round and host the winner of New Hampshire and Colgate in the second round on Dec. 5 at 1 p.m.

The Dukes (9-2) finished in a three-way tie for first in the CAA with the University of Richmond and William & Mary.

“I don’t care if we share it or what — were CAA champs,” JMU senior offensive lineman Austin Lane said. “I’m just so excited. I’m elated.”

The biggest of JMU’s two defensive scores came late in the fourth quarter. With JMU clinging to a 24-21 lead, Villanova drove the ball to the 36. On second-and-7, Villanova quarterback Zach Bednarczyk fumbled after being hit by JMU’s Rashad Robinson. JMU’s Taylor Reynolds scooped up the ball and ran 77 yards to give the Dukes a 31-21 edge with just 3:25 left in the contest.

“At practice the last couple weeks we’ve been practicing all 11 hats to the ball,” JMU senior defensive lineman Alex Mosley said. “…Whenever we got chances to create opportunities for turnovers we just took full advantage of it.”

The Wildcats had four turnovers, two interceptions and two fumbles.

JMU virtually put the game out of reach after Robinson recovered a fumble on the ensuing possession. The Dukes needed only three plays to score. JMU quarterback Bryan Schor connected with Brandon Ravenel for a 12-yard touchdown pass with 2:50 left in the game.

The Dukes took the lead on the first play of the game. Brandon Ravenel returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead just 15 seconds into the game and the Dukes never trailed.

“The last couple weeks we’ve been really, really fortunate to play really good special teams,” JMU coach Everett Withers said. “We had a really good week of practice of really trying to be better at kickoff return. …Our kids did a great job of getting a hat on a hat, and Brandon did a great job of scoring.”

The Wildcats tied the game on their first possession. Villanova needed only four plays to go 62 yards. Running back Gary Underwood tied the game at 7 with a 32-yard run with 12:45 left in the first quarter.

JMU’s defense gave the Dukes the lead back late in the first quarter. JMU’s Jordan Brown intercepted a Bednarczyk pass and returned it 45 yards for the score and a 14-7 JMU lead with 6:46 left in the opening quarter.

Both teams struggled on offense throughout the rest of the half, until JMU’s final drive.

The Dukes needed only six plays to go 83 yards in just 51 seconds. Schor connected with Domo Taylor across the middle and Taylor broke a few tackles and raced to the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown with just three seconds left in the first half.

“I think the ball was in the air for like five seconds,” Lane said. “I was right there and I saw it. I thought it was going to get picked off because there was a Villanova guy sitting there and Domo just comes running across. …Big plays is what our offense is good at. We really came through there.”

The Wildcats came out with an impressive drive to start the second half.They went 90 yards on 15 plays, chewing up over seven minutes of clock time.

Villanova linebacker Don Cherry scored on a 1-yard plunge to end he drive and cut the lead to 21-14 with 7:47 left in the game.

The Dukes responded with a long drive of their own. JMU went 72 yards on 16 plays, taking up over six minutes of clock time. The dukes drive stalled and they had to settle for a 21-yard Ryan Maglio field goal with 1:38 left in the third quarter.

The Wildcats out-gained the Dukes 453-323 and had 10 more first downs in the contest.

Schor finished 14-for-23 for 171 yards passing and 54 yards rushing.

The players said they’re excited for the playoffs and to hopefully play a team they haven’t seen before.

“Absolutely, were looking forward to that,” JMU senior offensive lineman Dominick Richards said. “That’s part of the playoff system. You love to play someone that you don’t see, you’re not familiar with. It gives you a different type of atmosphere.”

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