#2 JMU rally falls short at Richmond, 35-29

No. 2 James Madison rallied late in the game and fell short in the closing seconds, losing at Richmond, 35-29, in a Colonial Athletic Association battle, on Oct. 20.  With the loss, the Dukes dropped to 5-2 on the season and 3-1 in conference play, while the Spiders improved to 5-3 and 3-2 in the league.

Down 35-16 with just under seven minutes to play, Madison started a comeback behind freshman quarterback Michael Birdsong (Matoaca, Va./Matoaca).  He got the Dukes into the end zone quickly, as he scrambled for 36 yards on the first play then hit sophomore DeAndre’ Smith (District Heights, Md./Wise) for a 39-yard touchdown to trim it to 35-22.  JMU went for two, but could not convert with 6:04 to go in the game.

After stopping Richmond, Madison got the ball back with 2:53 to go in the contest. The Dukes marched 15 plays and 78 yards in 2:18, with Birdsong going the final eight yards for the score, and redshirt-junior kicker Cameron Starke (Halifax, Va./Halifax County (West Virginia)) hit the PAT to make it 35-29 with 35 seconds to play.

Redshirt-senior punter David Skahn (Centerville, Va./Westfield) lined up for the onside kick, got the ball to take the hops to avoid a fair-catch call, and Smith skied to come down with the ball and give the Dukes one last chance at their own 48-yard line. Madison was able to get it down to the UR 31 and had two shots from there, but could not find the end zone to complete the comeback.

JMU had 526 total offensive yards in the game to Richmond’s 441 total yards.  Madison, however, collected 11 penalties for 98 yards, including three key penalties to keep drives alive, and turned the ball over twice to the Spiders.  Richmond was penalized for 60 yards, did not turn the ball over in the match-up and put points on the board each of the five times the offense entered the red zone.

Birdsong led the Dukes in passing on Saturday afternoon, throwing 11 for 22 for 159 yards and one  touchdown while rushing seven times for a career-best 73 yards and a score.  Smith was on the receiving end of many of the days’ passes, collecting a career-best 122 yards and two touchdowns.  He became the second Duke to accomplish the 100-yard mark this season, both in the last two games.  Redshirt-junior Dae’Quan Scott (Staunton, Va./Robert E. Lee) rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown against the Spiders, his second 100-yard rushing game of the year and 10th of his career. Redshirt-junior linebacker Stephon Robertson (Alexandria, Va./Edison) led the Dukes with 13 tackles, eight solos and 2.5 tackles for loss.

To begin the day, starting quarterback Justin Thorpe (Richmond, Va./Varina) drove the Dukes down field 49 yards, connecting with Smith on a 21-yard pass straight into the heart of the end zone to give JMU their first points of the game.  Madison held the ball for two minutes and 10 seconds over six plays.

Richmond would come back to answer on their next possession.  Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss and the Spiders offense took 4:27 off the clock as they marched 75 yards towards the end zone.  Kevin Finney grabbed a high 4-yard pass in the back of the end zone to put six on the board for the Spiders, but a missed PAT preserved the JMU lead at 7-6.

On their next possession, Thorpe and Scott combined for 13 yards of rushing offense over five plays to get the Dukes within field goal range.  Starke found the middle of the uprights from 36 yards out to give Madison a four-point lead late in the first quarter.

Strong efforts by both defenses put points at a premium to start the second quarter.  Richmond manufactured 90 yards of offense over 12 plays, but a goal-line stand inside the JMU 5 kept the Spiders to a field goal.  With 37 seconds left in the half, an interception by Richmond’s Doug Howell proved costly for the Dukes. The Spiders went 51 yards, converting the turnover on a six-yard touchdown pass from Strauss to Stephen Barnette.  A second missed PAT kept the Dukes within five heading into the half at 15-10.

The Spiders got off to a hot start in the second half, scoring a third touchdown off a 4-yard pass from Strauss to Finney to complete a 50-yard drive in 2:35. The two would connect again for another score with just over four minutes left in the third quarter to put UR up 28-10.

JMU refused to back down as Scott started a third quarter drive with a 43-yard rush off a handoff from Birdsong.  After a 21-yard pass to Smith, Scott crossed into the end zone with a one-yard rush to close the gap to 28-16.

Richmond added another score, as Kendall Gaskins found a hole on a blitz rush and scampered 40 yards to wrap up the six-play, 57-yard drive and give the Spiders a commanding 35-16 lead with 6:41 to go in the game.

Strauss finished the game 27-for-43 for 271 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, while Barnette had nine catches for the Spiders for 144 yards and one score, and Finney finished with five catches for 35 yards and three scores. Gaskins had 21 rushes for 106 yards and one TD. Aaron Roane led all defenders with a game-high 14 tackles on the afternoon.

Madison heads back to Bridgeforth Stadium for a Homecoming matchup with Georgia State on Saturday, Oct. 27.  Kick-off is set for 3:30 p.m.

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