football Edit

Dukes Sharp On Winning TD Drive

A Closer Look At How JMU Beat Richmond This Past Saturday

James Madison junior running back Trai Sharp runs during the Dukes' win over Richmond this past Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg.
Daniel Lin/DN-R

HARRISONBURG — It all came together on the final drive.

After laboring to get its rushing attack moving for the first 55 minutes, James Madison leaned on junior running back Trai Sharp and its offensive line to put together a final charge down the field — sticking to the identity the unit was built on, despite the struggles throughout most of its contest against rival Richmond this past Saturday.

Sharp carried seven times for 54 yards in the last five minutes. His 7-yard touchdown run with 44 seconds left boosted JMU to a 20-13 victory over the Spiders.

“Sometimes we might be a little stubborn about staying with the run, but we want to control the game,” JMU offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick said. “I do feel like we’re very well conditioned and that we’re kind of built to win in the fourth quarter, so we feel like eventually we’re going to wear them down and eventually we’ll find the right scheme or the right play to get that done.”

Before executing the 10-play, 71-yard drive that spanned more than three minutes to close the game, JMU had managed just 51 rushing yards.

“Now, we’re 71 yards away, so you’re going to have to do something,” Kirkpatrick said. “We didn’t just plan to run it every time, but I think we did every time but maybe once, and luckily we completed that pass. Another one was a run-pass option, which [senior quarterback Bryan Schor] probably could have thrown, but I think he was just feeling that the O-line was feeling that they just kind of wanted to put it to ‘em.

“But we did want to eat the clock up as well because they had timeouts, so we surely didn’t want to leave them timeouts and time, so running the ball was the way to eat the clock up the most.”

The most crucial choice for Kirkpatrick and second-year coach Mike Houston came once the Dukes pushed into Richmond territory.

Sharp’s 15-yard run from the Richmond 33 down to the 18 put the Dukes within kicker Ethan Ratke’s range. Ratke had connected on field goals of 24 and 36 yards earlier in the contest.

“The big decision was, ‘Are we just going to eat the clock up, now that they’re out of timeouts? We can center the ball up in the middle of the field, kick the field goal and leave ‘em no time,’” Kirkpatrick said. “Me and Mike spoke and he was like, ‘Go ahead and score if you can.’

“Two plays later we scored.”

Houston credited the offensive linemen for putting together one of their most consistent drives all season long.

The group had been searching for the cohesion it had last year, and due to some injuries, had only had it at times this season.

“We lost [sophomore right tackle] Tyree [Chavious] and [sophomore right guard] Gerren [Butler] for the year and we’ve had a couple of guys banged up and out of the lineup at times,” Houston said. “But I do feel like this past week and right now we are finding ourselves maybe as healthy as we have been since the opener against East Carolina.”

Kirkpatrick said there were key individual efforts that helped prolong the drive and enable JMU to win in the final minute.

In conjunction with the offensive line, senior tight end Jonathan Kloosterman, who battled an illness that kept him sidelined for two games last month, helped push Richmond’s front backward.

Kloosterman, a preseason All-American, had the key block — driving Richmond defensive back Micah Keels down the field — on Sharp’s 15-yard run to get in the red zone.

“It’s been great having him back and it has made a big difference,” Kirkpatrick said. “I don’t know if it shows up in the box score as much because he hasn’t really caught a lot of passes, but he brings so much more to it than that with his blocking and moving the line of scrimmage.

“And with the game on the line, you figure that they’re not just going to stop you, they’re going to blitz you, so we wanted to have the big guys in there to run smash mouth and protect the edges. So we were putting Kloo wherever we needed to put him. We were literally manipulating him to get him everywhere we could get him and he really rose to that occasion and did a good job. He had a lot to do with some of those running lanes, a lot of those were his key blocks.”

Though Schor only threw it once on the drive, a 9-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Riley Stapleton gave JMU a first down to extend the drive.

Two plays later, the signal-caller served as Sharp’s lead blocker. On a second-and-3 from JMU’s 47, Schor helped Sharp pick up a first down and move past midfield by sprinting ahead of the running back after handing away the ball. Schor shielded a Richmond defender in pursuit of Sharp from the perimeter.

“We tell him to be smart, but at the same time that’s why we’re winning, because of the way he is,” Kirkpatrick said of Schor. “He only knows one way to play and I’ve always said he’s a little Brett Favre-like and you don’t want to take that away from him because that’s who he is and he inspires the team and inspires the offense with that type of play.”

Of course, Sharp’s determination on each one of his carries moved the ball, too.