Defense propels Dukes past Wildcats
HARRISONBURG — For the second straight year it was James Madison University’s defense that came up with some big plays to secure a victory over Villanova.
The Dukes used a stellar defense and a few timely offensive plays to pull out a 30-8 Colonial Athletic Association football victory on Saturday. It was JMU’s 18th straight victory, which is a new CAA record.
“I thought our kids played really, really hard,” JMU head football coach Mike Houston said. “We expected the game to be the way it was and we expected the game to go the way it did. And I thought our kids showed a tremendous amount of toughness and unity, and just finding a way to make plays when we had to make plays.”
With JMU clinging to a 16-8 lead in the fourth quarter, Dukes’ defensive lineman Simeyon Robinson sacked Villanova true freshman quarterback Kyle McCloskey to force a punt. McCloskey replaced Villanova starting quarterback Jake Schetelich at the start of the second half.
“That was huge,” Houston said. “It was a good line call by (JMU defensive line) coach (Jeff) Hanson. The stunt had (Robinson) wrapping around and he wrapped right into the quarterback when he started trying to scramble. Right there that was a big play.”
The Dukes (6-0, 3-0 CAA) took advantage of the field position on the ensuing series to put the game out of reach. JMU needed only five plays to go 56 yards for a 23-8 lead.
JMU quarterback Bryan Schor connected with David Eldridge for a 29-yard touchdown pass to stretch the lead. Schor said he saw the defense jump offsides at the start of the play, and knew he had a chance to come up with a big play.
“I saw David (Eldridge) in a good position to go make a play,” Schor said. “And I just threw a ball that I thought he could go make a play on. And credit to him for making a really good play.”
The defense added another score in the final minutes of the game on a 5-yard interception return by JMU linebacker Brandon Hereford.
Most of the game was dominated by the two defenses.
The Wildcats (4-3, 2-2 CAA) limited the Dukes to a season-low, 45 rushing yards.
JMU held Villanova to just 174 total yards, including just 30 passing yards.
JMU defensive lineman Andrew Ankrah said a big key for the defense was putting pressure on Villanova’s young quarterbacks.
“Every single time we would regroup we would just rally up and say we have to get to the quarterback on third down situations,” Ankrah said. “He was a freshman quarterback so we knew he would get antsy in the pocket. So we just kept pressure on him all day. And it turned out to be very successful.”
The two defenses controlled play throughout much of the first half.
JMU’s Jimmy Mooreland set up the Dukes’ first points of the game. Mooreland intercepted a pass by Schetelich at the Wildcat 42-yard line.
The Dukes went 37 yards in six plays before settling for a 22-yard field goal by Millbrook graduate Tyler Gray.
Gray added another field goal, a 36-yarder with 8:40 left in the first half for a 6-0 JMU lead.
On JMU’s next possession the Dukes finally found the end zone. JMU went 62 yards on seven plays.
Schor connected with wide receiver John Miller for a big gain. Miller fumbled the ball and Eldridge recovered the fumble at the Villanova 23-yard line.
On the next play, Schor completed a pass to tight end Clayton Cheatham. The true freshman broke several tackles on his way to the end zone to give JMU a 13-0 edge with 3:03 left in the first half.
“We got into a quick set a couple times, and he was lucky enough to get down the field and get open,” Schor said. “He’s a really talented kid, and we’re lucky to have him here.”
JMU extended the lead to 16-0 on a 17-yard field goal by Gray on the Dukes’ first possession of the second half.
McCloskey looked solid on the Wildcats second possession of the second half. He led the team on an 18-play, 79-yard drive. McCloskey’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Todd Summers on the first play of the fourth quarter cut the lead to 16-8.
Schor threw for 271 yards on 20-for-28 passing. JMU wide receiver Terrence Alls had seven receptions for 83 yards. JMU safety Jordan Brown had 12 tackles for the Dukes.
JMU also hosted ESPN’s “College GameDay” on Saturday morning. There were an estimated 14,000 in attendance for the event. There were 26,069 at the JMU-Villanova game, which is the second largest crowd in Bridgeforth Stadium history.
“We had a great atmosphere at the stadium,” Houston said. “They were very vocal and very involved in the game. And I thought they had a big impact in the game.”