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Landers Again Carries JMU over Maine
ORONO, Maine - James Madison fell into the trap. And Rodney Landers pulled the Dukes right back out of it.
JMU’s senior quarterback rushed for 97 of his 156 yards in the second half, leading his team to three touchdowns and turning a 3-3 halftime tie into a 24-10 victory on a rain-misted Saturday night in front of just 3,188 fans at Alfond Stadium.
“He was the difference in the game,” JMU coach Mickey Matthews said after passing Challace McMillin as the school’s all-time winningest coach. “We had Rodney and they didn’t. They couldn’t tackle him.”
Sophomore tailback Griff Yancey added a pair of touchdowns, and senior defensive end Hassan Abdul-Wahid turned in eight tackles and 1½ sacks as the Dukes (4-1 overall, 2-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association) staked their claim to be the consensus No. 1 team in Division I-AA when the polls come out today.
The win did not come easy for JMU, which went into the weekend ranked No. 1 by the I-AA coaches and No. 2 in The Sports Network’s media and sports information directors’ poll. Villanova beat Richmond - ranked No. 1 by The Sports Network - on Saturday to open the door for JMU to sit atop both polls.
“We know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot from now on, just because we’re ranked so high,” said Landers, who led the Dukes to wins over then-No. 3 Massachusetts and then-No. 1 Appalachian State the previous two Saturdays. “They were in your face the whole game. They didn’t stop.”
With the game tied 10-10 with 12:21 remaining, Maine coach Jack Cosgrove called for a “pop kick” on a kickoff, a play designed to send the ball just over the first row of return men and into a dead spot in front of the next line of JMU players, giving the Black Bears a chance to recover it. Despite freshman Jordan Waxman kicking it short and to the front line of Dukes, the play appeared to work when Maine recovered the ball at midfield. But the Bears were flagged for interfering with Madison’s chance to catch the kickoff and JMU got the ball - and an additional 15 yards.
Three plays later, Yancey spun off a Maine defender and scored on a 12-yard touchdown run that proved to be the game-winner.
“We just felt it was something that was there and it didn’t work out,” a crestfallen Cosgrove said. “It turned the game around and that’s on me.”
Madison’s defense held the Black Bears (2-3, 0-2) to three-and-out on the next possession and Landers led the team on an 11-play, 85-yard drive to seal the win. Yancey capped the march with his second score, a 30-yard touchdown that put JMU up 24-10 with 3:39 to go.
“That was a championship drive,” Matthews said. “We had to run it. They knew we were going to run it. They couldn’t stop us.”
The late Landers-led surge erased a gritty first half by the underdog Black Bears.
Maine (2-3, 0-2), which played Richmond tough for a half the Saturday before, ended the first quarter with a 3-0 lead, having forced JMU to punt after both its offensive possessions.
“Obviously, when you play in a league like this, you’re going to play the top teams,” Maine sophomore quarterback Adam Farkes said. “You want to play them. It’s not like we don’t want to play the No. 1 team in our house.”
The Black Bears could have led by more if not for a pair of dropped balls. First, facing a third-and-five at his own 22-yard line in the opening period, Landers carelessly floated a pass that should have been picked off and run back for a score by Maine freshman defensive back Norman Smith. But Smith couldn’t hold on to the ball and JMU punted.
Then, running back Derek Session dropped a wide-open touchdown pass. The Black Bears did turn that possession into the 27-yard field goal by Brian Harvey to go up 3-0 with 2:53 left in the opening quarter.
Cosgrove went for a surprise onside kick that his Black Bears recovered. JMU held Maine to another field-goal attempt and Harvey pushed this one wide left with 14:02 left in the second quarter.
With the ball back, Landers led the Dukes 68 yards on 13 plays, rushing for 37 of that himself and hooking up with wide receiver Bosco Williams for a 25-yard completion to set up Dave Stannard’s 26-yard field goal.
JMU and Landers got the ball back one final time in the first half, going 53 yards on seven plays. But Stannard missed a 38-yard try as time expired, sending the teams to the locker room knotted at 3-3.
“We came out kind of sluggish, didn’t tackle like we wanted to,” said JMU senior safety Marcus Haywood, who had two interceptions in a game for the second time this season. “That’s what we did a whole lot better in the second half. They ran hard. They came out and played hard. We know that’s going to happen every week. We have bulls-eyes on our chests.”
Landers Again Carries Madison
By Mike Barber, The Harrisonburg Daily News Record (VA)
Photo Credit: Cathy Kushner/The Harrisonburg Daily News-Record