JMU football notebook: Dukes’ win over Tribe meaningful to players

James Madison head coach Mike Houston, right, speaks with an official in the first half of a game against North Carolina in September. The Dukes play Sam Houston State in the Football Championship Subdivision playoff quarterfinals tonight. AP file

HARRISONBURG – James Madison University head football coach Mike Houston was happy with his team’s 31-24 victory over William & Mary last Saturday, but he was even happier to see his players’ excitement over the big win.

The Dukes lost 44-41 last year to the Tribe in the final minutes, and Houston said it meant a lot to the players to get a win this season. The Dukes sealed the victory with an interception in the end zone by redshirt senior Taylor Reynolds in the final minute of the game.

“For me the greatest memory of this past weekend was after Taylor Reynolds’ interception in the end zone just watching our kids celebrate down there,” Houston said in his weekly press conference Tuesday. “They had a lot of heartache there a year ago, and I’ve heard them talk about that as probably the low point of last season. To see them able to celebrate a play like that at the end of the William & Mary game there at home was really a special moment for them and I was really excited to see it.”

The Dukes had 511 yards of offense in the victory, including 329 yards on the ground.

Houston said he was very happy with how the team responded in a close game.

“I thought our kids were ready to play,” Houston said. “I thought that we really played hard. We played physical. I thought the kids did a great job of handling a lot of the adversity that William & Mary put in front of us.”

Late-game woes: JMU’s defense has played better with each game, but the Dukes have struggled late in their last contests.

In back-to-back weeks the Dukes have given up some big plays, with the game seemingly at hand.

“There’s just come communication errors that we had,” JMU linebacker Gage Steel said. “Things we’ll have to clean up when we watch film that we talk about and we’ll fix it. That’s things that happen in the game and that we need to fix, and we’ll just focus on that and then get ready for next week.”

In the win over Delaware on Oct. 1, the Dukes gave up two touchdowns late in the game. In last week’s victory over William & Mary, the Dukes allowed the Tribe to drive down the field throughout the fourth quarter, including a late score with three seconds left.

“I’m disappointed with the mistakes we made late in the game that good football teams can’t make,” Houston said. “It’s things that I am accustomed to my teams not doing, and we’ve got to get those corrected. The positive is we made those mistakes, we can learn from those mistakes and teach from those mistakes, and it didn’t cost us the game.”

Ready for the final stretch: Houston said that the win over William & Mary was the type of game the Dukes can expect to see for much of the rest of the season.

“You got the sense early on it was going to be a tough day,” Houston said. “That’s the way it’s going to be the later we get into the season. The bigger these games get you’re going to have a lot more like this. It was a physical game, rain, elements, stuff like that. If we can make it to December you’re going to have some elements and some tough situations. So I think it’s a good game for us.”

The Dukes will certainly be tested over the last five games. JMU plays at New Hampshire on Saturday, and later in the season has road games at Richmond and Villanova.

JMU is tied for first in the CAA with New Hampshire and Villanova, while one-loss Richmond is ranked in the top five in the Football Championship Subdivision polls.

Houston said he was very proud of the way the Dukes responded to some tough situations.

“The thing that they’ve got is they never gave up,” Houston said. “They showed tremendous resilency and heart and toughness down the stretch. If they can keep coming out every week and giving that kind of effort we’re going to be OK.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or