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Landers Scores Game-Winner To Send JMU To Semis
HARRISONBURG - Scoring the game-winning touchdown wasn’t the hardest thing for James Madison quarterback Rodney Landers to do late in Saturday’s win over Villanova. It was not scoring on the play before.
Landers intentionally went down on a first-and-goal play to help bleed some extra time off the clock, then bulled his way into the end zone from a yard out with 1:38 remaining to give the top-seeded Dukes a 31-27 win over Villanova in an NCAA Division I-AA football quarterfinal at Bridgeforth Stadium.
“That was the hardest thing I ever had to do was not score,” Landers said. “On that first one, I had to fall down.”
On the second one, Landers was stopped by Villanova safety John Dempsey, but Landers pushed his way past Dempsey with a second thrust, barreling into the end zone.
The win means JMU (12-1) will host Montana – the team it beat in the 2004 I-AA title game – on Friday at 8 p.m.
Landers rushed for 143 yards and the touchdown, while going 14-for-20 for 157 yards and three scores passing.
To get to the semifinal, the Dukes had to beat conference foe Villanova (10-3) for the second time this season. On Oct. 25, Landers threw a 35-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass on the game’s final play to give Madison a 23-19 victory that helped it secure the Colonial Athletic Association title and the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs.
Unlike that rain-soaked, wind-whipped meeting, however, Saturday’s affair saw plenty of passing. Landers put the Dukes up 7-0, floating a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mike Caussin. On a second-and-goal, Landers rushed toward the line of scrimmage, then hopped up and popped the ball toward Caussin, almost in the fashion of a jump shot. It’s a play the pair ran successfully in a win over Richmond earlier this year. But Saturday, Villanova had it well-defended. Caussin and a Villanova defender both went up for the ball - and both appeared to have it. The referees eventually signaled touchdown, putting Madison ahead 7-0 with 2:13 to go in the first quarter.
“I think our guy intercepted that ball,” Villanova coach Andy Talley. “But the official told me that they came down with the ball simultaneously on the ground and they always give the ball to the offense. You saw the play. I saw the play. It’s one of those things. That’s the way it went.”
Then, on the first play of the second quarter, Landers zipped a 26-yard touchdown pass to Bosco Williams – who caught the Hail Mary pass in the first meeting – to give the Dukes a 14-0 lead with 14:54 left in the half.
Behind the play of sophomore Matt Szczur, Villanova rallied back. Szczur set up the Wildcats’ first score, taking a 59-yard reception down to the 1-yard line. A play later, Louis Adeyemi plunged across the goal line to cut JMU’s lead to 14-7 with 13:38 remaining in the second quarter.
Then, in the final seconds of the first half, Szczur lined up to take a direct snap, followed blockers to the right and scored a 2-yard touchdown that sent both teams to the locker room tied at 14-14.
Landers led JMU down the field on a 10-play, 77-yard drive that ended when he hit Kerby Long with a 30-yard scoring strike.
On the play, tailback Griff Yancey cut down a Villanova blitzer coming free from Landers’ blind side, and the defender covering Long slipped and fell, leaving him wide open. That put JMU up 21-14 with 10:03 left in the third quarter.
The Dukes added a 23-yard field goal before the Wildcats rallied for their first – and only – lead of the game. First, quarterback Chris Whitney hit Brandyn Harvey for a 26-yard touchdown pass. A crucial missed extra point meant Villanova sliced the Dukes’ advantage to only 24-20 with 13:51 to go in the fourth quarter. It proved to be a crucial point.
Szczur threw a 13-yard pass to Stephen Pimm for a score to put Villanova up 27-24 with 6:54 remaining.
Suddenly, Madison’s 12-game winning streak was in serious jeopardy.
An unsportsmanlike conduct call against Pimm helped give the Dukes good starting field position to mount a game-winning drive. Pimm was flagged for taking off his helmet to celebrate while on the field of play.
“He was pretty much almost on the sideline when he took his helmet off,” a clearly annoyed Talley said.
As he did a week ago in the win over Wofford, Landers led the Dukes down the field, going 54 yards in 5:16 on 11 plays. The drive included converting a fourth-and-2 at the Villanova 46-yard line. That conversion came on a 22-yard run by Griff Yancey, who found room to run up the right sideline after taking a pitch from Landers.
As in the previous meeting, the game’s final pass clinched the outcome. Villanova – needing a touchdown, not a field goal, because of the missed extra point – threw an interception with 40 seconds to go that was caught by senior safety Marcus Haywood.
Landers Scores Game-Winner To Send To Semis
By Mike Barber, The Harrisonburg Daily News Record (VA)