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Top-ranked Dukes get off the playoff schneid

At some point you got the feeling that the team that had the ball last would end up winning this one. JMU ended up with the ball last.
The top-ranked and top-seeded Dukes held off a game Wofford squad by recovering an onside kick with a minute to go to post a 38-35 win in the first round of the I-AA football playoffs Saturday night in Harrisonburg.

“When’s the last time we gave up three, what, three-oh-one rushing? That must be an all-time high in my tenure,” Madison coach Mickey Matthews said, marveling at the football game that more resembled a track meet, full-court basketball and at times a tennis match than anything else.

JMU (11-1) gained 343 yards on the ground itself, 166 coming via the sweet feet of senior quarterback Rodney Landers, who also threw three first-half touchdown passes that helped stake the Dukes to a 28-14 halftime lead.

Wofford (9-3) stormed back on a pair of Dane Romero short touchdown runs to tie it at 28-all with 1:11 to go in the third. A 24-yard Dave Stannard field goal put James Madison back out in front three minutes into the fourth quarter, and Landers capped a clock-killing 65-yard, 10-play drive with a six-yard run on third-and-goal to make it 38-28 JMU with 3:21 left in the game.

Mike Rucker scored from 12 yards out at the 1:02 mark to make it interesting, but the Dukes recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran the clock out from there.

It was the first playoff win for JMU since its 2004 national championship. The past two seasons had ended with disappointing road losses, in 2006 at Youngstown State and in 2007 at eventual national champion Appalachian State.

“You’ve just got to go to the next round. One game has nothing to do wiith the rest of them. The idea is to advance,” Matthews said of getting the proverbial monkey off the Dukes’ backs with the playoff win.

“After what we’d been through the past two years, it’s big to advance. I think being at home really helps,” Matthews said.

“We had a tendency to bow out of the playoffs early. We needed this from a confidence standpoint to establish ourselves as the number-one seed,” said Landers, who accounted for 294 yards of total offense on the night and four touchdowns all told.

JMU will play CAA rival Villanova in the quarterfinals next weekend. ‘Nova defeated Colgate 55-28 on Saturday.

Madison beat Villanova 23-19 on Oct. 25 in Philadelphia.

The kickoff time has not been announced.


– Story by Chris Graham

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