A JMU Sports Fan’s Guide to Dealing With a Sad Saturday

Photo Courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin 

If you’re a JMU fan and woke up feeling like you had a hangover this morning, there are two potential reasons why. 1) You drank a lot of alcohol last night and 2) You’re feeling the emotional effects of one of the most heartbreaking days in JMU sports history. 

Oh who am I kidding, I’m talking to JMU fans. It’s a combination of No. 1 and 2, which means you’re probably not having the happiest Sunday morning. I’m here to help. 

First, a quick explanation as to why I’m qualified to be your sports sadness therapist today. I try to be as unbiased as possible when covering JMU athletics. I worked for The Breeze throughout college and created this site and the newsletter portion of JMU Sports News with the help of Jack Fitzpatrick. While the stories and posts on this site don’t currently include sources and are closer to blog posts than articles, I view the creation of these posts like I would if I were a reporter/columnist for the team.

With that being said, I’m an alumnus of the school. I want JMU to succeed athletically, just like I want the school to succeed academically. I went to the Colgate game wearing about eight layers, many of them purple. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t support the team, even though I try to cover them from the perspective of a media member. 

This long ramble about my life finally brings me to my point: I feel your pain, JMU Nation. 

I’ve attended 29 of the 43 games in the Mike Houston era. Many of those games were as a part of The Breeze, MadiZONE or HERO Sports. I’ve interviewed Houston quite a bit and have spoken to many current and former players. I know how hard they work, how much winning means to them and how used they are to being successful. I’ve seen every JMU program win and lose, and I promise I can make today better. 

Losing hurts. As a fan, as a player and as a coach. That means Saturday hurt badly for JMU fans. 

Football lost a frustrating heartbreaker to Colgate on a game-winning field goal as time expired. The Dukes fell 23-20. This loss came in the FCS playoffs. 

Men’s soccer lost 2-1 to Michigan State after taking a 1-0 lead early in the contest. This loss came in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Men’s basketball lost 67-42 to Old Dominion and scored 11 first-half points. 

Sweet heavens, what a day! 

So how in the world are you supposed to deal with these losses? Let’s go team by team, starting with men’s soccer. 

How to deal with JMU men’s soccer’s loss

In all likelihood, you aren’t quite as distraught about this loss as you are the football defeat for a few reasons. 

  1. There’s very little media coverage of JMU men’s soccer
  2. The team overachieved by making the Elite Eight
  3. The future is incredibly bright for this team under Paul Zazenski, who wrapped up an incredible first year at the helm of the Dukes

Dealing with this loss shouldn’t be too difficult, although it’s certainly disappointing and came in heartbreaking fashion. JMU gave up two goals in the final 20 minutes to lose to an unseeded Spartan team. The Dukes were so close to making the Final Four, but just didn’t have enough in the tank. 

My recommendation for dealing with this loss is to take a deep breath.

The loss hurts, especially on such a rough day for the athletic program, but making the Elite Eight in a coach’s first season is a tremendous testament to the team’s talent. This team will likely never receive intense media coverage like football or basketball, but there’s a chance this team gets to the same level as lacrosse or softball in the coming years. Despite the loss, you should be extremely excited about this program. 

How to deal with JMU men’s basketball’s loss

The Dukes lost to Old Dominion by a final score of 67-42. They scored 11 first-half points, and actually had 12 first-half turnovers. Yeah, the Dukes had more turnovers than points in the first 20 minutes of action. This loss hurts because it came last during the terrible, no good, very bad day. JMU was a 10-point underdog, but an upset could’ve salvaged a rough day for JMU. Instead, the Dukes got blown out. 

Here are three reasons this loss shouldn’t make you too upset:

  1. This team isn’t all that good
  2. Old Dominion is a good team
  3. Louis Rowe is a great recruiter

My recommendation for coping with this loss is a giant dose of patience.

This team turns the ball over way too much, and the offense looks discombobulated. But the core group of this team is filled with sophomores, and incoming three-star recruit Michael Christmas can’t wait to help change the future of this program. Stay patient. Rowe’s strength is recruiting, so stay calm and wait for Rowe to bring in another recruiting class or two before rushing to judgment about the team. 

How to deal with JMU football’s loss 

This one hurts the most for a number of reasons. 

  1. This definitely had the most JMU fans tuned in
  2. JMU could’ve, and probably should’ve, won this game
  3. It spoiled a chance at JMU-NDSU Round 3

JMU did everything it could to lose this game, and Colgate took advantage of the majority of those mistakes, like good teams should. The Raiders fought hard, forced five turnovers and booted a 38-yard field goal as the clock struck zero to send the Dukes home unhappy. 

Despite the mistakes, the Dukes had their chances. The defense played admirably, the rushing attack pushed Colgate around as the game went on, and JMU’s special teams unit made a handful of solid plays. It’s a game JMU could’ve won. 

Our recommendation for dealing  with the loss is a steady diet of perspective. 

In the last three seasons, JMU is 37-6 with three playoff appearances and two national title game appearances, including one victory. In the last five seasons, the Dukes are 55-13 with five playoff appearances. That’s a winning percentage of 80.8 percent, and 86 percent under Houston. If someone told you that immediately following the Mickey Matthews era the Dukes would win nearly 81 percent of their games, one national title and make the playoffs every year, would you take it?

Yes, of course. Matthews had a great tenure, and the Dukes have put themselves squarely on the map after his reign. 

JMU is one of the premier FCS programs in the country. The fan base is crazed, the stadium and facilities are immaculate, the players are athletic and disciplined and the coaches are elite. Even if Mike Houston leaves the program, JMU is one of the top programs in the country. 

What North Dakota State has accomplished is nothing short of incredible. Winning seven out of the last eight national titles is close to a miracle. It takes incredible coaching, remarkable talent, one of the best home-field advantages in college sports and a little bit of good fortune. 

It’s not easy to beat the Bison, or even compete with the Bison, but the Dukes are approaching that level. It doesn’t mean JMU is there — it isn’t — but why can’t JMU be the next FCS dynasty?

JMU returns 20 of 22 starters from Saturday’s game against Colgate, and Rashad Robinson comes back to fill the void at cornerback left by Jimmy Moreland. The Dukes are loaded, regardless of whether of not Houston returns. I’m sure many JMU fans hope he does, but Jeff Bourne has a good track record of replacing coaches, and the Dukes have a great chance at finding success regardless of the person leading the squad.  

How to deal with all three difficult Saturday losses

Look at the big picture. JMU football is building a program that’s becoming a perennial playoff and top-10 team. Men’s soccer made the Elite Eight in its first year under a new head coach and men’s basketball continues to add talented recruits.

JMU suffered minor setbacks Saturday, but that doesn’t change the trajectory of this athletic department. JMU’s athletic programs are just getting started. 

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