UVA had a 35-24 lead on JMU with 12:06 to go in the fourth quarter. Then the game was delayed more than an hour by storms in the Charlottesville area.
The JMU coaching staff took advantage of the delay to refocus its offensive game plan.
The UVA coaching staff, best we can tell, assumed the weather would never lift, the game would be called, and sent out for pizza and wings.
The Dukes came out of the break like a team possessed, scoring on their final two drives, the go-ahead score coming on a 10-yard TD pass from Jordan McCloud to Kaelon Black with 55 seconds left, to complete a stunning comeback, getting the win, 36-35, on Saturday.
The official attendance was announced at 56,508, but maybe half that stayed around for the finish – and most of those who did were JMU fans.
The Dukes (2-0) had a first-and-10 at their own 20 after the delay, and moved methodically down the field, mostly on the ground – going eight plays for 80 yards in three and a half minutes, getting into the end zone on a 27-yard run around the right end by Ty Son Lawson, to get the deficit to 35-30 with 8:34 left.
Virginia (0-2) still had a chance to close it out, but you’d need to be able to run the ball to do that, and the Cavaliers weren’t able to get anything going on the ground all day, rushing for a grand total of 18 yards.
UVA was able to get two first downs on its next drive, one on a pass by Anthony Colandrea – the true freshman QB pressed into starting with Week 1 starter Tony Muskett apparently out for a while with the shoulder injury he suffered in last week’s 49-13 loss to Tennessee – and one on a fourth-and-short run by Mike Hollins, whose storybook day had him running for two TDs in his first game since suffering life-threatening injuries in the Nov. 13 mass shooting that killed three of his teammates.
A false start on center Ty Furnish got the next set of downs behind the chains, and eventually forced a Daniel Sparks punt that went into the end zone, giving JMU the ball back at the 20 with plenty of time, 3:20, still on the clock.
McCloud connected with Elijah Sarratt for 24 yards on second down to get the ball to the JMU 44, then the UVA D gave the Dukes a first down with a hands-to-the-face penalty on Aaron Faumui that moved the ball into plus territory.
JMU only faced two third downs on its final drive – converting the first through another penalty, a pass-interference call on UVA defensive back Jonas Sanker that set up the Dukes with a first down at the UVA 15.
The second was a third-and-five pass from McCloud to Black in the left flat that Black took in for an easy score.
Colandrea was sacked for a 10-yard loss on the first play of UVA’s final possession, and then threw three incomplete passes, the final one, on fourth-and-long, an overshoot of an open Demick Starling down the right sideline.
The final result wasted a productive day from Colandrea, who was 20-of-26 through the air for 377 yards and two TDs, with one interception.
The frosh was able to put up big numbers despite being under constant pressure – he was sacked four times – and despite that unacceptable inability to get anything going on the ground.
Accounting for sack yardage, Virginia ran the ball 31 times for just 43 yards – this with an O line that had 35 pounds per man on the JMU front.
JMU had a more balanced offensive attack – McCloud was 20-of-31 for 224 yards and a TD, and the Dukes ran the ball 33 times for 168 yards, with the Dukes O line allowing just one sack on the afternoon.
The loss was a depressing end to an emotional day for the UVA Football program, which held a pregame ceremony to honor Hollins and the three teammates who were shot and killed on Nov. 13 – Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry.
Hollins, who recovered from his shooting injuries to be a full participant in spring practice, had 28 yards on 12 carries in his first game back in front of the home crowd since the shooting.
His first TD, a 4-yard run in the second quarter, cut a JMU lead at that time from 17-7 to 17-14, and his second score, a 9-yard run late in the third, made it 35-24, ahead of the rains.