The Collegian
Wednesday, February 01, 2023

No. 1 Richmond forces fumble in last minute, beats JMU 21-17

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Six yards separated the University of Richmond football team from its first loss in 364 days.

But with 58 seconds remaining during the fourth quarter of Saturday's game, Richmond senior defensive tackle Martin Parker forced James Madison University freshman quarterback Justin Thorpe to fumble as he tried to run for the end zone. Richmond junior linebacker Eric McBride recovered and secured Richmond's 14th-straight victory, giving the Spiders a 21-17 win in front of a sellout crowd at Bridgeforth Stadium.

"I just tried to get the ball and hold on to it as tight as I could," McBride said. "We have a great team and a great team never quits."

Richmond had taken the lead only minutes before Thorpe's fumble, taking advantage of senior defensive back Seth Williams' interception. The Spiders drove 76 yards in 10 plays after the interception before junior fullback Ben Keating scored his third touchdown of the day on a six-yard pass from senior quarterback Eric Ward with 7:20 to go during the game.

"To be involved in a game like that once again is kind of like a deja vu," Richmond head coach Mike London said.

Last season, James Madison beat Richmond on a last-second punt return. That game was the last time the Spiders lost.

"Last year was definitely in the back of our minds," Keating said. "But, we knew it was a brand new ball game this year."

Richmond got out to an early 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the first quarter. Propelled by a 43-yard pass from Ward to junior wide receiver Kevin Grayson on the Spiders' first play from scrimmage, the team needed only five plays before Keating scored his first touchdown of the day on a one-yard run.

James Madison also scored on its first possession, on sophomore Dixon Wright's 42 yard-field goal. But Richmond struck again shortly thereafter, taking advantage of good field position to get its second score. The Spiders took over at the James Madison 35-yard line after a good punt return by senior safety Derek Hatcher. Three plays later, Keating again banged his way into the end zone from one yard out, giving Richmond a 14-3 lead.

But during the second quarter, James Madison began to move the ball against the Spiders behind junior quarterback Drew Dudzik. Dudzik took over for Thorpe with 8:27 left during the first half and led the Dukes to a score on his first drive, capped by a 38-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Rockeed McCarter.

During the second quarter, Richmond punter Brian Radford dislocated his ankle during a punt attempt, prompting the Spiders to replace him with back-up Brett Weigand. James Madison came after Weigand on his second punt attempt of the game and blocked his kick. Sophomore wide receiver Corwin Acker recovered the ball for the Dukes and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown, giving James Madison a 17-14 lead.

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The third quarter was scoreless, but James Madison still suffered a significant loss. Dudzik broke his foot and Thorpe returned to the game as his replacement, which proved costly, because Thorpe had three turnovers during the final two quarters.

"He's a child," James Madison head coach Mickey Matthews said of Thorpe "He carries the ball too loosely."

During James Madison's final drive, the Dukes pounded the Richmond defensive line with the run, driving 57 yards while throwing only one pass during the 11 plays before Thorpe's game-clinching fumble.

Richmond's offense managed only 264 yards of offense during the game, but their effort during the first quarter was the difference, Matthews said.

"We lost the game in the first quarter," Matthews said. "All we did during the last three quarters was try to overcome the first."

Ward faced more pressure than he had seen thus far this season, but still managed to throw for 165 yards on 16 of 26 passing. The Richmond running game managed 138 yards on the ground, including 99 from senior tailback Justin Forte.

Senior linebacker Collin McConaghy set a career high with 14 tackles. Williams and junior defensive back Justin Rogers each had interceptions and the Spiders recorded two sacks.

"It didn't look pretty, but we played football," London said. "We made the plays when we had to."

Richmond improved its record to 5-0 this season and 3-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association. James Madison fell to 2-3 and 0-2 in the CAA.

The Spiders have now won nine-straight road games, which is the longest road winning streak for any team in Division I college football.

The Spiders return to action next Saturday against the University of Maine in Orono, Maine. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.

Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at reilly.moore@richmond.edu

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