You had the feeling that it was just too much time to give Rodney Landers and top-ranked James Madison.
Landers capped an 11-play, 54-yard fourth-quarter drive with a 1-yard run with 1:38 to go, and Brandon Randolph sealed the deal with a last-minute interception to give JMU a 31-27 win over Villanova in the quarterfinal round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs Saturday in frigid Bridgeforth Stadium.
“I’ve said all along, this group of kids thinks they’re going to win. They make the plays in the last five or six minutes to win games,” Dukes coach Mickey Matthews said of his team, which had earlier in the season beaten Villanova in Philadelphia on a final-play-of-the-game Hail Mary pass and also posted a last-minute win over Richmond on a long Scotty McGee punt return and another win in Harrisonburg over three-time defending national champion Appalachian State after trailing 21-0 at the half.
It looked like Madison (12-1) was going to write a different script early on, taking a quick 14-0 first-quarter lead on a controversial 6-yard TD pass from Landers to Mike Caussin that appeared for an instant to have been intercepted by ‘Nova and then a mundane-by-comparison 26-yard pass from Landers to Bosco Williams.
The Wildcats tied it at 14 at the half on a Louis Adeyemi 1-yard run and a Matthew Szczur 2-yard run. The Dukes then went up 24-14 late in the third on the strength of a Landers-to-Kerby Long 30-yard TD pass and a 24-yard Dave Stannard field goal before another Villanova comeback that had Chris Whitney connecting with Brandyn Harvey on a 26-yard post for a TD made it 24-20 JMU a minute into the fourth quarter and then the ‘Cats took the lead at 27-24 with 6:54 to go on a 13-yard pass from Szczur to Stephen Pimm.
Pimm was flagged for excessive celebration after that score, though, and the 15-yard penalty resulted in good field position for JMU on its next drive that the Dukes converted with the Landers run late.
“All of us have had a great season. If it would end after the 11th game, you’d have your banquet, and everybody would be happy. But as exciting and as great as the playoffs are, it’s one and done, so when you lose, everything comes to a screeching halt,” said Villanova coach Andy Talley, whose team ended its ’08 season at 10-3.
JMU next gets Montana (13-1), a 24-13 winner over Weber State on Saturday.
In other I-AA playoff action, Richmond stunned App State 33-13 in Boone, N.C. The Spiders will get the winner of the Northern Iowa-New Hampshire game next weekend.
– Story by Chris Graham
Photocast by Kent Iberg and Chris Graham
Rodney Landers keeps the ball on the ground in first-quarter action. The senior QB ran for 143 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown and completed 14 of his 20 pass attempts for 157 yards and three touchdowns.