Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
Nothing beats college football rivalries. College football is all about tradition, and rivalries are among the best traditions in the sport. On the FBS level, games between Ohio State and Michigan have a different energy than normal games. When Oklahoma and Texas square off, there’s a different intensity in the stadium. Auburn-Alabama is an annual spectacle for the entire college football world.
While FCS rivalry games don’t carry the same national intensity as major FBS rivalries and the games certainly don’t bring the same crowds, FCS rivalries play an important role in college football. Whether it’s an Ivy League battle between Harvard and Yale or a matchup between Lehigh and Lafayette or a historic showdown between Southern vs. Grambling, FCS rivalries are special. They don’t get the same hype, but fans of those respective schools understand the importance and excitement of those games.
For JMU football fans and players, few weeks match the excitement of a JMU-Richmond game week. Not only is there a heated rivalry between the two fanbases, but both teams also tend to play solid football. There’s a reason the “College GameDay” crew visited Harrisonburg for the first time during a JMU-Richmond game week.
Since 2000, Richmond is 10-9 against JMU, but the Dukes have scored an average of 27 points per game to Richmond’s 24 points per game. Eleven of the 19 games have been decided by seven points or fewer. Recent play between the two schools has been tremendous.
It’s also a rivalry defined by mutual respect between the players, who often know each other from playing high school ball in Virginia. The fans don’t love each other, the players respect each other and the quality of football is high. In short, it’s a great rivalry.
I love the JMU-Richmond rivalry and wanted to take a look back at the three best rivalry games between the Dukes and Spiders since 2010. Considering there’s not a whole lot going on in the middle of July, I figured now would be the perfect time to discuss the rivalry.
3. JMU defeated Richmond 20-13 in 2017 (in Harrisonburg)
The Dukes, who were clearly the better team throughout the 2017 season, went on to play for the national title. Richmond missed the playoffs. Despite the disparity in their records and overall performance, both teams fought extremely hard in this cold November matchup that featured the last showdown between Bryan Schor and Kyle Lauletta.
Neither team’s offense clicked, with both teams posting fewer than 350 total yards. The lack of offense was a change of pace from the previous two games, which saw both teams score at least 43 points in both matchups. Lauletta found ways to beat the Dukes through the air in 2017, posting 304 yards on the day, but the Spiders couldn’t turn a strong passing game into points. Richmond’s signal caller took four sacks, and the Spiders mustered a measly 20 rushing yards on 19 attempts.
JMU struggled with consistency moving the ball until the final minutes of the game. Richmond tied the game at 13 with a 36-yard field goal late before Trai Sharp led the Dukes on a season-defining drive. Sharp rushed for 54 yards on the team’s game-winning 71-yard touchdown drive. He found the end zone with 44 seconds remaining to give the Dukes the lead for good. The triumph gave the Dukes their 22nd consecutive win.
JMU was the better team, but the Spiders rallied behind Lauletta and pushed the Dukes to the brink. It was a tremendous football game, played on a cold November evening in front of 24,000+ fans at Bridgeforth Stadium.
2. Richmond defeated JMU 59-49 in 2015 (in Harrisonburg)
This game has a legitimate case for the top spot. With ESPN’s “College GameDay” in town for the first time in school history, Vad Lee and the undefeated Dukes hosted Kyle Lauletta and a dangerous Richmond offense.
Given all the recent success of the JMU program, this game feels like it was forever ago, but it happened back in 2015. Everett Withers was JMU’s head coach and Lee was the starting quarterback. It was a different world back then.
Both teams exchanged blows early as JMU jumped out to a 14-7 lead after the first quarter. Richmond responded with 18 unanswered points to take a 25-14 lead before JMU scored 14 points in less than a minute to take a 28-25 lead with 32 seconds until halftime. Given the ridiculous nature of this game, it only made sense that the Spiders were able to tack on a field goal to tie the game at 28 going into the break.
The second half was nightmarish for JMU. The Dukes allowed five second-half touchdowns en route to a 59-49 loss. Vad Lee injured his foot and missed the rest of the season, and JMU ultimately lost in the second round of the playoffs without their top signal caller. What started as a dream week with GameDay coming to town ended in bitter disappointment for JMU fans.
It’s easy to forget what made this game so special, but so many things happened to make this game memorable for all involved.
- ESPN’s “College GameDay” was in town
- The sellout crowd, which was engaged throughout the game, stayed after halftime with the score tied at 28
- The teams combined to score 108 points and put up 1,305 total yards. The teams averaged 1.8 points and 21.75 yards per minute of game time
- Vad Lee amounted 418 total yards and five touchdowns before getting hurt. He put on a show
- Kyle Lauletta excelled, throwing for 415 yards and two touchdowns to nearly match Lee’s output
- Richmond’s Jacobi Green ran for 236 yards and five touchdowns on 27 carries. Green also talked trash to the JMU student section while camping out on an exercise bike when the Spiders’ defense was on the field
- With Lee’s injury, fans got their first real taste of Bryan Schor in meaningful game action. He was good, throwing for 73 yards and a touchdown in addition to his 18 rushing yards and a touchdown
This game received as much pre-game hype as any JMU-Richmond game in recent memory, and it delivered.
1. JMU defeated Richmond 47-43 in 2016 (in Richmond)
While the 2015 game had the better in-game atmosphere, I’m putting this game No. 1 on my list for a few reasons.
First, both teams were more complete in 2016 and the high point total was reflective of great offense and not just crummy defense. If Lauletta hadn’t gotten injured later in the season, the Spiders were a threat to make a deep postseason run for the second consecutive season. Instead they were bounced in the quarterfinals by Eastern Washington.
Second, this game meant more in the winning team’s season journey. JMU went on to win the national title in 2016, while Richmond dropped three games in 2015 after its JMU win. One of those losses was a 33-7 blowout loss in the FCS semifinals to North Dakota State. The Dukes beat the Bison in 2016 en route to the program’s second national championship victory.
Third, the game featured seven lead changes and JMU scored 14 points in a 36-second span with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter. JMU needed a late fourth-down conversion and a touchdown pass to Jonathan Kloosterman to take a 40-37 lead with 1:36 left in the final quarter. Both games had dramatic moments late, but the 2016 game felt like both teams could genuinely win the game with two minutes left.
The outcome was in doubt well into the fourth quarter of both the 2015 and 2016 games, but both teams were capable of making critical defensive stands in 2016, whereas the 2015 game was a clinic in bad tackling and defensive miscues.
The battle between Schor and Lauletta also reached its peak in this game. Lauletta scored six total touchdowns and amassed an astounding 435 yards through the air. Schor found the end zone four times and tallied an impressive 376 total yards. He also completed 78.5% of his passes in the efficient performance. Both quarterbacks brought their “A” games against respectable defenses.
A few other key plays in this game don’t get the credit they deserve, especially Terrence Alls’ leaping catch over a Richmond defender. That catch, and Kloosterman’s touchdown reception late in the game, are two of the more underrated highlights of the entire 2016 season. (Alls’ catch takes place around the 2:15 mark of the video above.)
When selecting between the 2015 and 2016 games, you can’t go wrong. Both were fantastic football games that will live in the memories of JMU fans forever. Personally, the importance of the win and overall quality of play in the 2016 game put it at No. 1 on my list.
Editor’s note: Do you agree with the ranking? Share your favorite JMU-Richmond memories in the comments below.