Saturday's football game against James Madison University is more than an average in-state rivalry - the two teams will be playing for supremacy among all Colonial Athletic Association and Football Championship Subdivision teams when they meet at 3:30 p.m. at UR Stadium.
"We do get some kids that like us, visit them and decide on them," coach Mike London said. "There are recruiting wars in high schools and in homes ... that's what rivalries are made of. We're two in-state schools having some success."
After the Dukes beat three-time defending FCS champion Appalachian State University on Sept. 20, they took the No. 1 spot in the CSN coaches' poll. The Spiders were ranked No. 1 in the Sports Network poll, but after a loss at Villanova University on Sept. 26, Richmond is the underdog heading into one of its most anticipated games of the season.
JMU, coming off a 56-0 win at home against Hofstra University, is now ranked No. 1 in both the Sports Network and CSN coaches' polls. Richmond, coming off a 56-16 win at the Virginia Military Institute, is ranked No. 5 in the Sports Network poll and the CSN coaches' poll.
"JMU is always a big game for us," junior defensive lineman Parker Miles said. "We're more excited to play this game. We have to be. They're No. 1. We've been watching film even more so than usual."
Since the two schools are in the same state and the same conference, a number of the players on each team know each other. Miles said some Richmond players had friends playing at JMU that they'd played against their whole lives, and they had a high level of respect for each other because of that.
"We have to respect every aspect of what they can do," London said. "You can't let up one inch, and the guys that played last year understand."
Richmond beat JMU 17-16 in Harrisonburg last season, taking a 17-0 first-half lead and focusing on keeping possession and playing good defense in the second half to stop the Dukes' comeback. Richmond leads the series between the teams 14-11.
"They're better this year," Miles said. "They come out ready to play. Our whole team has another year on us, we're ready to go. Every game we really, really need from here on out."
The teams are an even 6-6 at Richmond and the away team has won each of the last four games. Last year, the Spiders ended the Dukes' 11-game winning streak at Bridgeforth Stadium, and the Dukes now have the chance to break the Spiders' eight-game winning streak at UR Stadium.
"In this conference, you have to be able to win games on the road," London said. "This is a game of significance because it's a conference game."
Last week, sophomore cornerback Justin Rogers scored his third defensive touchdown this season off of a fumble recovery - the previous two were interceptions returned for touchdowns. Rogers and the Richmond defense have scored 35 points this season.
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The Spiders rank fourth in the FCS with 15 forced turnovers and have scored 70 points off of those turnovers. London has said each week that the key was to make plays on offense, defense and special teams, and he said he was pleased with all aspects of play against VMI.
One of the big questions offensively for Richmond is sophomore wide receiver Kevin Grayson, who did not play last week because of an injury. He is one of the players on the Richmond depth chart, but he is not listed as a starter.
"The trainers and doctors like Kevin's prognosis," London said. "He's a tough kid and if it's going to benefit him and not put him back in any way then we'll play him."
With the injury to junior running back Justin Forte during the Sept. 20 game against the University of Maine, senior running back Josh Vaughan had to handle more of the team's carries himself. He said he hadn't been pleased with his performances against Maine or Villanova University.
Last week, London started Garrett Wilkins, a freshman, in Vaughan's place against VMI. Vaughan responded with 16 carries for 123 yards, the seventh time during his career that he has had more than 100 rushing yards in a game.
"We pride ourselves every week on running the ball," Vaughan said. "Whatever seams the offensive line opens up, we're going to hit them hard and hit them fast."
Two of Vaughan's closest friends from high school play at James Madison, and he said it was always good to play against someone he knew. He said the possibility of having conference bragging rights motivated him for this game.
"The next couple games are against conference teams," London said. "Everybody's management is going to have to step up ... Every conference game now is critically important. You have to be at your best."
Contact staff writer Barrett Neale at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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