JMU notebook: Dukes thankful to have bye week

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University senior Dominick Richards had one big wish after Saturday’s victory over Villanova — to be able to go home for Thanksgiving.

Richards and his teammates got their wish as the Dukes were named the No. 5 seed in the upcoming Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, giving them a bye this weekend.

“Everybody on the team, we’ve been here all summer. We’ve been here a whole season since I think August fourth or fifth. I don’t think anybody on the team has any other plans other than just going home and seeing mom and dad,” Richards said. “This is something we wanted all year. Being a five seed, being anywhere in the one-through-eight seeds is something we looked forward to and something that we viewed as necessary to do well in the playoffs. Obviously, having that bye week before the big run of the playoffs is a big deal. So we’re happy about it.”

The Dukes (9-2) will play the winner of New Hampshire and Colgate at 1 p.m. Dec. 5 at Bridgeforth Stadium.

JMU coach Everett Withers said team members will be off Thursday, Friday and Saturday so they can go home and be with their families and come back on Sunday to start a normal practice week.

“We don’t want to do too much different than we’ve done all year long,” Withers said. “We’re going to give them some time. We’d love for them to go home and spend time with their families. They’ve been going at this thing since August the fourth. …It will be a good opportunity for them to go home and see family and friends. Get away from football a little bit. Watch football on TV.”

Freshman force: Rashad Robinson is having a solid freshman season, and that certainly continued on Saturday.

Robinson only had three tackles, but he came up with two of the game’s biggest plays in the fourth quarter. With the Dukes clinging to a 24-21 lead in the final quarter, Robinson forced a fumble that was recovered and returned 77 yards for a touchdown by Taylor Reynolds.

On the next drive, Robinson recovered a fumble and the Dukes would score three plays later.

“I tell our guys all the time he’s a really special ball player for a young kid,” Withers said. “…There’s just something special about him. He’s just one of those guys, he’s mature beyond his age.”

This season Robinson has 14 tackles and one interception.

Robinson went to Hermitage High School in Richmond, and JMU senior defensive lineman Alex Mosley said he hasn’t been surprised by Robinson’s play.

“He’s from my hometown, which is Richmond. We played for the same Little League teams, went to rival schools,” Mosley said. “So he kind of had some of the same type of upbringing that I had. So I expected him to make plays, because he’s from Richmond — we create ballplayers.

“I’m just proud of him. The way he collects himself every day, you wouldn’t even think of him as a freshman.”

Four-quarter battle: Withers said that he was most pleased with his team’s focus and fight throughout the game against Villanova on Saturday.

“I think all week long our kids stayed on an even keel,” Withers said. “We knew it was going to be one of these kind of games. When you play Villanova, you’re playing a really good football team. A lot of tradition and a really good program. You know you’re going to have to battle your butt off all day long.”

The Dukes were averaging 572 yards per game entering the contest with the Wildcats, but were held to only 323. Villanova out-gained the Dukes by over 100 yards and had 10 more first downs.

Still, the Dukes were able to find ways to score and to create turnovers on day when the offense wasn’t clicking.

“We told our kids don’t look at the clock today, just go play the game today,” Withers said. “And if things weren’t going good don’t look up there, just keep playing and our kids did that today.”

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