College Football: I had faith in ya, JMU, really, I did

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

OK, truth be told, I had this brief conversation with my niece, Kayla, who served as my spotter at Saturday night’s James Madison-Appalachian State game.

“You know, JMU is getting their doors blown off here. Whaddya say we head out early and get a hamburger?”

Thank God Kayla said in response that she wanted to see more of the game. And thank God for that lucky sweatshirt that we bought her at halftime.

“Don’t forget to write about the lucky sweatshirt.” The $38 number, that is, that we picked up because Kayla was otherwise en route to hypothermia on a colder-than-we-expected night in the Valley.

And I was meaning that figuratively as well as literally up to the point where I broached the idea of skedaddling. For all the pregame energy in and around Bridgeforth Stadium for the game against top-ranked App State, the Dukes were duds in the first 30 minutes, trailing 21-0 heading into the break, and honestly, it wasn’t even that close except on the scoreboard. The Mountaineers outgained JMU 223-66 and held the punchless and apparently nervewracked Dukes to two first downs total for the first two quarters of play.

And then ASU coach Jerry Moore made the mistake of kicking off to return specialist Scotty McGee, who took the second-half kickoff 99 yards to the house to get the crowd back in the game and put the nerves back into the game for Appalachian State, who went three-and-out on its first third-quarter possession and then saw JMU quarterback Rodney Landers break through the line for a 62-yard TD on the Dukes’ next play from scrimmage to make it 21-14.

The rest seemed foreordained by the football gods – Landers connecting with Griff Yancey on a 35-yard strike to bring JMU within 24-21 later in the third, then Eugene Holloman scoring from four yards out right in front of me on the left sideline in the fourth quarter to give the Dukes an improbable 28-24 lead, Holloman breaking free for a long run to set up another Landers score that put the game on ice again just a few feet away from where I was standing on the sidelines.

I didn’t mention that part, did I? About how I walked the sidelines Saturday night pretty much out of necessity?

“If you ask me for a parking pass, I’ll have to laugh,” the nice lady in the sport-information office told me earlier in the week last week when I called to arrange for my press passes. The press box has room for 14, which is normally fine when you’re talking about a staffer or two from the DN-R, The Breeze, the News Leader and then whenever I have a chance to make it up for a game. “We’ve approved 30 requests. I don’t know where we’re going to put you, but we’ll find some place for you,” I was told.

As the final seconds ticked down in what turned out to be a 35-32 JMU victory, I was glad that someplace was the sidelines. I grabbed my niece and told her to stay close, because there were going to be gobs of people streaming by, and sure enough, the stands emptied, and hundreds of fans ran out onto the field to celebrate what has to be the biggest win in school history, even bigger than the ’04 national championship, if only because it was in Harrisonburg, and because of the stakes involved, including the ’07 playoff meltdown at App State and the 21-0 halftime deficit.

It was so crazy out there on the field that it was all I could to hold my camera over my head and snap wildly into the melee.

Otherwise, you’ll see from my pictures that I’m not what you’d call a skilled sports photographer – yes, the one that we’re running here is the best of my action photos, such as we we can use the word best as an adjective in this instance. And then there’s the snapshot of my niece petting the Duke Dog, which for a long time looked to be the highlight of the night, that and the sweatshirt that we picked up at halftime for a princely sum.

“You’re supposed to call it the lucky sweatshirt,” my niece would remind me if she were editing today.

Ahem, the lucky sweatshirt. Which I’m going to need to get back before I go out and buy lottery tickets later in the week.


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