The Collegian
Friday, February 23, 2024

Spiders lose to No. 1 JMU 38-31 at home in final minutes

No. 1 James Madison University and No. 5 University of Richmond were tied with 18 seconds left, and everybody was getting ready for overtime -- except Scotty McGee.

McGee, James Madison's junior kick and punt returner, caught Richmond junior Brian Radford's 35-yard punt and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown, leading the Dukes to a 38-31 win at UR Stadium on Saturday.

"I saw him going up the sideline," Richmond senior running back Josh Vaughan said. "It seemed like we had him pinned. The next thing you know he's up the field scoring."

Richmond had been doing everything it could to make sure McGee, who was named the Colonial Athletic Association special teams player of the week, didn't touch the ball, coach Mike London said. James Madison coach Mickey Matthews had told McGee the ball would come to him more during the second half.

"I just started praying," McGee said. "God was operating through me and using me. I can't accept none of it. I've got to give him praise."

That touchdown was the fifth lead change of the game. Richmond had taken the game's largest lead with 3 minutes, 21 seconds left in the game after Vaughan's three-yard rushing touchdown. Vaughan also scored Richmond's first touchdown of the game, putting him in seventh place all-time at Richmond with 21 career rushing touchdowns.

"We had two timeouts left," Matthews said. "It was no time to start panicking."

James Madison needed only 59 seconds to turn the game around. Senior running back Eugene Holloman's eight-yard rushing touchdown and sophomore running back Griff Yancey's catch for a two-point conversion tied the game at 31 with 59 seconds left.

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"We've been down before," James Madison senior quarterback Rodney Landers said. "We find ways to keep chipping away and win a ball game.

"I turned around and saw Scotty floating up the sideline and I was like, 'Wow.' We're just confident in our abilities."

Richmond regained possession on its 28-yard line with a chance to win the game, but ended the drive four plays later after James Madison sacked junior quarterback Eric Ward for the first time, forcing the team to punt on a 4th down with 18 yards to go.

"The game's 60 minutes," Ward said. "We had a lapse at 59."

Aside from James Madison running out the clock on a team rush with 38 seconds left during the first half, there was no shorter drive. Although Richmond's 11 interceptions lead the Football Championship Subdivision and James Madison has 10 interceptions, neither team added to that total on Saturday.

"We had every opportunity," senior defensive lineman Sherman Logan said. "We missed our assignments and didn't play all the way until the end of the game."

Junior defensive back Michael Ireland and senior lineman Lawrence Sidbury Jr. forced two James Madison fumbles, but the Dukes recovered them both to keep from committing any turnovers. Ireland also had a career-high 16 tackles.

Both offenses had perfect records in the red zone, the final 20 yards of the field. Richmond was 5-for-5 and James Madison was 4-for-4.

"We had nine out of 15 third-down conversions," Matthews said. "Anytime your percentage is that high, you should win it."

Richmond converted six out of its 12 third-downs and both fourth-down conversion attempts. The Spiders had 348 total offense yards, and the Dukes had 322, but the Spiders relied more on passing the football.

Sophomore wide receiver Kevin Grayson, who sat out last week's game at Virginia Military Institute with an injury, returned and had 62 yards on four receptions. Freshman wide receiver Tre Gray's five catches totaled a career-high 97 yards.

Gray's catch on a fourth down, which allowed Richmond to continue its scoring drive at the end of the second half, and his 51-yard catch during the first quarter, were the longest of the game. Ward also threw a 41-yard pass to junior wide receiver Jordan Mitchell during the second quarter.

London said Richmond moved the ball well offensively, and the defense allowed Richmond to outscore the Dukes for most of the game by minimizing their offense. Before the two last-minute touchdowns, three of James Madison's five scores were field goals. Richmond had one field goal out of five scores.

"We just played the No. 1 team in the country," London said. "You can't take anything away from this team. I think we have a very good team."

Radford's punt to McGee was Richmond's second punt of the game. JMU had only one.

Both teams were focused on maintaining possession. Though Richmond's first-quarter time of possession was 9:31 to James Madison's 5:29, the Dukes finished with a possession time of 31:01 to Richmond's 28:59.

"You'll watch the game film and see what you did wrong," London said. "It's a painful lesson to learn."

James Madison's record improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association. Richmond is now 4-3 and 2-2 in conference games.

"It hurts," Vaughan said. "But we're not going to let this be a major setback for our season."

James Madison also narrowed Richmond's series lead to 14-12, and took a 7-6 lead in games at Richmond. It was the fifth-straight time during the series the visiting team has won.

The attendance was 16,151, the largest in more than eight years. Four of the nine largest crowds since 2000 have been during games against James Madison, which brought its marching band to lead a loud, full visitors' section at the game.

"It was a great college football day," London said. "The players really appreciate that. My hat's off to the fans."

The game ended Richmond's eight-game undefeated streak at home, dating back to the start of the 2007 season. The team will travel to the University of Massachusetts next weekend before returning to UR Stadium for the homecoming game against Georgetown University on Oct. 25.

"Any team can beat any team," London said. "Everybody still has games to play.

"You just keep playing and you deal with the reality. The most important game is the next game and for us, it's against UMass."

Contact staff writer Barrett Neale at barrett.neale@richmond.edu

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