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The CAA Today: “Another Classic!”
By Bruce Dowd, CSN The CAA Today columnist
One of the best things about writing for CSN is I get to pick what games I want to attend. Last week I took the obvious selection of watching No. 1 play at No. 5. And I got to see another classic!
I made a semi-family weekend out of it and first visited my father in Scottsville, Va., (just outside of Charlottesville) and then attended the game with my grandson, Austin, in tow (now a teenager), who gladly served as my photographer for the game and tailgate. As a result, this time the pictures are viewable. Got to love that younger generation and the ease with which they adopt to technology. It’s as if it’s in their blood.
As usual, we cruised the tailgate for several hours before gametime mixing it up with the fans and begging for food and drink. Luckily we found several fans that felt sorry for us and fed us nicely. I met many new people who visit our CSN site often plus catching up with several people that I befriended at the App State-JMU game a couple of weeks ago. Again we had a great day for football and a game for the ages making the eight-hour round trip well worth the time.
If you remember my article from last week, I mentioned how I thought JMU would win on big plays and coach Mickey Matthews and I disagreed again as he felt they would have to grind it out. Well, JMU had one 30-yard run by Sullivan and its longest pass was for 20 yards, so it looks like Mickey was right again. Maybe I might start thinking about not disagreeing with this guy so much.
Richmond received and started on its 24. My grandson had mentioned how he felt that Richmond was fired up and it sure looked like it on that opening drive, which went for 76 yards on seven plays and it was Ward and Vaughn. Vaughn started it with a first-play scamper for 17 yards. Ward connected on two passes, the big one was a 51-yarder to Gray to the JMU 4. Vaughn finished the job grabbing the last four yards on three straight rushes for the touchdown. It was Richmond 7, JMU 0 just like that.
Now, here is where in my opinion, Scotty McGee got his first three points without even touching the ball. Into the wind, Richmond decided to stay away from McGee (can’t imagine why) and kicked it high and short. A fair catch was made by JMU on its own 40, giving the Dukes great field position. The ensuing drive, if you could call 26 yards a drive, ended in a 51-yard field goal by Jason Pritchard. Score: Richmond 7, JMU 3. So, you have to wonder whether they get those three points if Richmond kicks deep. Hence the dilemma when facing an outstanding kick returner - damned if you do and damned if you don’t as you will see later.
On the kickoff, Richmond’s Justin Rodgers made a big mistake and bobbled the ball. He had to fall on it at the Spiders’ 4, pinning them up against their own end zone.
However, the Spiders escaped aided by an Eric Ward third-down run for 11 yards to the Richmond 19. Their drive eventually sputtered, and they were forced to punt. They kicked it short and away from McGee. It was downed on the JMU 25. From there, JMU started a drive and the first quarter ended as Landers hit McCarter for 17 yards and a first down on the Richmond 16.
It took Landers only three plays into the second quarter to find Mike Caussin for an 8-yard touchdown pass. Score: JMU 10, Richmond 7.
With JMU now kicking into the wind, it was Richmond’s turn to get good field position. The Spiders started their next drive from their own 38. It took Richmond only six plays to go 62 yards for a score. Again the big play of this drive was another long pass by Eric Ward, this time for 41 yards to Jordan Mitchell. Score: Richmond 14, JMU 10.
The Dukes then went on an impressive, 14-play drive for 52 yards, which ended in a 22-yard field goal, this time by Dave Stannard. This drive took up 8:25 on the clock. During this drive, JMU rushed 12 times against only one 20-yard pass and had six players carry the ball. Richmond had to start its next drive with only 1:57 remaining in the half and were unable to muster a drive. At halftime, the score: Richmond 14, JMU 13.
I was amazed how close this game was statistically at halftime and not just on the scoreboard. JMU had eight first downs to Richmond’s seven. Each team had 28 plays and Richmond had only a 23-yard total offense advantage. JMU had a slight advantage in time of possession with 1:50 more. Not just statistically, but the game looked even watching it, too, with two good football teams going at it. However, it was a costly first half for JMU as it lost its captain and outstanding linebacker, No. 11 D.J. Brandon, for the season with a knee injury. Here, he is alone with his thoughts as he ponders having played his last game for JMU. My heart goes out to the guy.
One interesting first-half statistic was that Rodney Landers had only five carries for a net of six yards rushing. It was hard to tell whether it was the JMU game plan to use him as a decoy or whether Richmond was keying on him. I suspect it was a little of both.
JMU receives to start the second half and on the first play, Landers rushes for eight yards, two more than his entire total in the first half. However, JMU’s drive stalls and it’s forced to punt. Richmond then proceeds to go on an 11-play, 56-yard drive culminating in a 32-yard field goal by Andrew Howard. Score: Richmond 17, JMU 13. This drive mostly was all Ward and Vaughn again.
Here is where McGee makes a difference again as he returns the kickoff 31 yards to the JMU 42, giving the Dukes excellent field position. James Madison took advantage as all great teams would and completed an 11-play, 58-yard drive for another lead change. Score: JMU 20, Richmond 17. Landers started to take control here as he rushed four times for 29 yards and completed three passes for 20 yards, including a five-yard touchdown to McCarter. The third quarter ended with Richmond just beginning its next drive.
A key play occurred early here as it seemed that JMU had Richmond stopped and were about to regain possession with the lead, but the Dukes were called for roughing the punter. The 15-yard penalty allowed the Spiders to keep the ball and gave them new life with a first down at JMU’s 40. Again, just like the Dukes did earlier, the Spiders took advantage of the break and turned it into an eventual Eric Ward three-yard touchdown run. Score: Richmond 24, JMU 20. The hitting in this game was now getting intense. Besides that roughing the kicker call, there also were two offsetting personal fouls. Also on the touchdown play, Richmond’s standout offensive lineman, Tim Silver, was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, but that ended up not costing Richmond.
So, here we go again, the ongoing battle of what to do about McGee. Kicking into the wind, Richmond chose to kick short and not to Scotty, only to have Charlie Newman return it 16 yards to Richmond’s 43. Great field position again! Thank you very much, Scotty McGee. Thanks to that short field, a fairly pedestrian 20-yard drive was able to end in an important three points as Dave Stannard connected on another field goal, this time from 40 yards out. Score: Richmond 24, JMU 23.
So, not to be outdone in the kick return department, Justin Rodgers, who up to this point was not having one of his better games, breaks a return for 46 yards to the James Madison 47. Again it was Ward and Vaughn, as this time Richmond needed only six plays to score what looked like a potential game-winning touchdown with 3:20 remaining; Score: Richmond 31, JMU 23.
Now, as if this game wasn’t already good enough, this last three minutes is where this game turned from a great game to a classic! Rodney Landers, my choice at this point in the season for the Walter Payton Award, took ownership of this game. He needed only seven plays to go 63 yards ending on an eight-yard Holloman touchdown run. Score: Richmond 31, JMU 29.
Landers had an eight-yard bullet pass to Kerby Long for a key first down and also had a 22-yard run where he was just knocking over guys as he made another first down at Richmond’s 16. During this last drive, there was a key turnover that didn’t happen, and it reminded me of something that a JMU tailgater had said to me earlier. He said that last year all the breaks and bounces were not going JMU’s way, but this year they were. He said that the Dukes still fumble, but this year they are getting the loose balls. Early in this drive, Michael Ireland forced a fumble by Griff Yancey, only to have JMU’s Dorian Brooks fall on it at Richmond’s 46. If Richmond recovers, then the game is over. But it didn’t, and the rest is now history.
Before we get on with the final exciting minute, I want to share something I saw and heard on the Richmond bench. Just prior to that last drive, one of the Richmond players was pumping up the defense for one last stand. He was shouting over and over again: “The pain is only temporary! The pain is only temporary!” I am sure what he meant was that any physical pain they felt, they needed to suck it up for one more stop, and the game would be over and the pain would go away. Somehow, I don’t think the pain of this game for Richmond is going to go away for a long, long time.
Now, here we go folks, the things of which legends and classics are made. Fifty-nine seconds remaining, JMU calls a timeout to make sure it has the right play called for the two-point attempt. Then Landers comes up to the line of scrimmage and looks over the defense, just before he calls a shift and sends all his receivers to the right side of the line.
Landers then rolls right and hits Yancey with a pass just in the end zone and just in bounds (although many say he wasn’t) and the two-point conversion is good! Tie score at 31!
So, with just under a minute remaining it looks like certain overtime, right? Well, not so fast. After the kickoff, Richmond started its drive on its own 28 and Eric Ward hit Kevin Grayson with a pass for 14 yards and a first down on its 42. Suddenly this gave the Spiders some hope as now they might be able to complete another pass or two and get into field goal range for a shot at victory. But is was not to be as an incomplete pass, a false start penalty and a sack stopped Richmond’s last-ditch attempt. So, the Spiders would have to settle for a chance in overtime, at least that is what everyone thought.
JMU called timeout and there were still 18 seconds left, which now forced Richmond into a punt. Austin and I were fairly nonchalant at this point, preparing for overtime as we discussed that all Richmond was going to do was kick it out of bounds making JMU have to go 60 or 70 yards in one play. Well, to the surprise of everyone in the stadium, it punted to McGee and as they say, the rest is now history. I will now let the pictures do the talking for me.
At this point, the JMU contingent is frantic as you might expect and again the atmosphere is just electric and almost surreal at the same time. Half the crowd is going nuts while the other half is stunned and in disbelief. McGee goes UNTOUCHED down the right sideline for 69 yards and a game-winning touchdown.
Final score: JMU 38, Richmond 31. I almost can’t believe my eyes and can’t believe my good fortune to have seen another Classic FCS football game.
That great return by McGee was the “play of the day” on ESPN. If you were not at the game and also missed the broadcast, you can see the return as someone was kind enough to post it on YouTube. Here is the link for your viewing pleasure. The clip has all the top 10 plays of the day, McGee’s return is the last one: The Return.
I will have some more on this game later this week in my column with quotes from the coaches and full statistics. On Monday of this week, I had a special treat as I was able to interview McGee when he was the featured player at the end of the weekly coaches’ conference call. I can’t think of a more fitting way to end the coverage of this game than to listen to what this fine, humble young man had to say.
When he was asked how he was doing, his response was: “Oh, man, I’m doing great!” Then he went on to talk about the return: “I got to give honor and glory to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He really kept me through the entire game. I had two major busts during the game that led to touchdowns [for Richmond]. One was early in the game in the first half and the second one … on a fourth and five, I got beat on the slant. And the next play, they scored on it. I came to the sideline and I was just like … by that time I was really about to go into the tanks. I was really just losing hope and said, God, you said you were going to use me in this game, but I don’t see it. And basically what ended up happening was one of the younger guys that comes out to practice, he said, ‘Scotty, there is not a better to time to pray then right now.’ And just by what he said alone just strengthened me spiritually and I just started praying. I was just praying to God and asking him for spirit of execution for the offense. And then they end up driving down the field and scoring. Then they called a timeout before that two-point play. And after they scored, I said, ‘Thank you, God. Thank you, God, you know, for what you are doing.’ And then I said, ‘continue giving me the spirit of execution and ball security. Just let them get the two-point conversion, God, and give me a second chance.’ ”
Scotty continued: “And then they got the two-point conversion. And at that moment, I was just overwhelmed at that point, and I was just crying and giving thanks. And then they told me, ‘Scotty, you got to go out on kickoff’ … before I went out, Scott Lynn came up to me and he was like, ‘We’re going to need you to win. We’re going to need you to win. Get it together. Get it together. You can do this.’ And I said, ‘All right, all right, all right.’ I went out on the field and one of our freshmen corners, he’s on the kickoff team as well, and he encouraged me. He had a tough time last week and I was encouraging him a lot because there were a few times he got hit really hard. So I found it really funny that he was encouraging me and my bust this week. And he was just saying, ‘You got to believe. You got to have faith like you tell me, like you tell me.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ “
Scotty continued with his story as he described what happened when he took the field; “As I was going out on the field, Coach Matthews told me to catch the ball and get out of bounds. As I’m walking, I’m like, ‘OK’ [but] I was thinking to myself, there is no way I’m running out of bounds. I got to make something happen … And from there he [Coach Matthews] yelled at me again, ‘If you got a seam, take it, take it!’ And I said, ‘OK.’ And I was thinking, that’s what I was going to do anyway. But just to get the OK from him …”
Now he continued as he described the play; “I ended up catching the ball and actually stumbled on the catch. I was just a little off balance. I cut back out and ran down the sidelines. It was just tremendous blocking, the wall was set up. As I’m running, I’m like, God, use me. God, use me. I’m literally crying while I’m running down the sideline. And then Rockeed McCarter came up with a big block and also Marcus Turner. Next thing I know I was in the end zone giving Him praise. After that, I was kind of under a pile. So, from there … I mean I was overwhelmed. It was just an amazing feeling to know that with 18 seconds left to go on the clock, and even though the odds were against me, I had been playing bad and things like that, you know, just by me keeping my faith alone, just God … trusting in Him to use me at the end of the game. So, I’m thankful and I can only give God the glory because I know it’s only His work. He equipped me with everything that I need to be successful, and I just pray that He will continue to use me.”
So do we Scotty, because you are a joy to watch.
Well, folks, that concludes my coverage of the game. On a final note, every time I visit Richmond I am treated to great Southern hospitality by the Richmond staff, headed by Mike DeGeorge. Thanks to Mike and his staff for making my grandson and I feel welcome.
I mentioned in the article several weeks ago about the App State-JMU game that if you were trying to sell the FCS to someone and had taken them to that game, it would have been an instant sale. This game was no different as again I had the extreme pleasure of witnessing FCS football at its best. Like Scotty McGee, and I am sure I speak for many of you, we too are all blessed to be a part of this.
I am always interested in hearing from you so please send any comments to CAA-Today@verizon.net.
While most of the photos in this article were done by my grandson, Austin, the last couple of McGee’s return and the McGee end zone celebration are courtesy of Cathy Kushner at JMU.
TAILGATING AND THE FANS:
Had another great time touring the tailgate section, and I was surprised how many people were there from JMU. I was told that Richmond is on break and many of the students are off-campus, yet there was still a large crowd as the announced attendance was 16,151, which is the largest since Nov. 21, 1998. From what I saw, I bet at least half in attendance were from JMU. Thanks again from all of us here at CSN to all of you for your kind words about College Sporting News and our coverage of FCS football. We all share your love for the sport at this level. There are a ton of people out there who just sit at home each weekend and don’t know what they are missing. Below are pictures of many of you who know what the others are missing. I wish I had allotted more time for my tailgate wandering as I barely had time to get out of the JMU section and didn’t spend much time with the Richmond fans, so Spider fans, next time I’ll walk your section.
I’ll start with a family picture, so indulge me, please. From left that is my grandson, Austin, my dad, Richard, yours truly, and my oldest daughter, Caroline. Please don’t ask about the chicken in the background, but I promise it’s not a family member.
This family must have gotten there bright and early as they were in the first spot next to the entrance. He is a teacher and was grading papers while he tailgated. They explained that their daughter (next picture) is not a JMU grad, but they had her going to games when she was a little girl. She’s hooked now and is a big fan.
While this was a pregame picture, it could have been a more appropriate post-game picture.
Next up are these lovely deviled eggs. I stood there, drooled over them, took pictures of them, you think they would have offered me one, but Noooooooooo …
Finally a familiar face from a previous game and a drink is found while we talk some football.
Don’t forget now, Austin, is a teenager as he spots a cheerleader tailgating before the game.
So, he moves in for a closer shot.
And now we have the circle tailgaters
JMU and Richmond fans tailgating together and knowing how to make best use of a tailgate.
This young lady is a repeat. I took a shot of her at the App State game in full war paint, this time without the paint. Still cute though.
If I understood correctly, they are the parents of No. 34 Marcus Haywood. Only problem is they didn’t realize that the camera was going to show their fingers in reverse, so they look like they are holding up 43, but really I had it right here, it is 34. Real nice folks, offered us some turkey barbeque, but it wasn’t quite ready yet. Next time, folks.
As I said, there was a large JMU tailgating crowd at this game. Quite impressive for a road game.
Here is Kirby and his gang. Kirby is the one with the cigar in his mouth not the pacifier, although next time that might not be a bad idea. Doug came prepared this time as he has his jumper cables around his neck, just in case either he or his truck need a jump-start. Thanks guys for the food, the jambalaya was awesome!
Here are folks really chowing down and enjoying themselves.
I’m not too sure about this warm-up exercise.
How is this for two extremes? I’ll let you insert your own caption here.
You’re No. 1! No, you’re No. 1!
And we meet again. The Ogden group from the App State game.
As I said earlier, Austin is a teenager.
I swear he was taking this picture against my better judgment. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
The Richmond side was full and it was loud.
Ahhhhhhhhh! Just way too cute.