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FIELD NOTES: Win Over Richmond Reminds Houston Of Last Year's Turning Point

James Madison running back Trai Sharp (1) celebrates his game-winning rushing touchdown with right tackle Jahee Jackson (60) and quarterback Bryan Schor during the Dukes' 20-13 win over Richmond this past Saturday in Harrisonburg.
Daniel Lin/DN-R

HARRISONBURG – Mike Houston likes to reference last season’s contest at Villanova as a turning point for his team en route to winning the 2016 national championship.

This past Saturday, he was reminded of it as James Madison survived rival Richmond 20-13.

“I compared this game to last year’s game at Villanova with our team yesterday,” the second-year JMU coach said during the Colonial Athletic Association coaches teleconference. “It was a game where maybe we didn’t play our best in some areas but our team stuck together and showed a lot of determination late and found a way to win it.

“You’re going to have those games during the year and if you can win those ball games, that’s when you have those special seasons.”

On that cold November day in Philadelphia last fall, JMU faced some hardships. Starting quarterback Bryan Schor got hurt, the offense wasn’t clicking like it had all season and for the first time, the outcome had to be determined by the Dukes’ defense.

Ultimately, JMU came out on top, but it took until the final five minutes to pull away from the Wildcats.

Houston and company needed all 60 minutes to separate from the Spiders.

“The kids really battled throughout the game and I’m just really pleased with the way we responded there in the last half the fourth quarter,” Houston said. “We had the turnover that gave Richmond great field position there, almost in our red zone. We were able to get a stop, hold them to a field goal and then able to take the ball and drive it the length of the field for the winning score, so our team responded the way you would have hoped that they would when it mattered there at the end.”


- Houston said one key to beating Richmond was that JMU didn’t allow explosive plays in the passing game. Though Spiders quarterback Kyle Lauletta threw for 304 yards and a touchdown, he didn’t have a completion for longer than 25 yards.

- This Saturday, JMU plays at Elon. A win for JMU would give the Dukes an outright CAA title for a second-straight year. The team has already flipped the page from celebrating its victory over the Spiders to preparation for the Phoenix, according to Houston. “They all know what’s at stake this week. I didn’t have to say a whole lot,” he said.

- Elon lost for the first time in conference this past Saturday, falling 16-6 at New Hampshire.

- The Phoenix have started freshman quarterback Davis Cheek at the position all season long. Elon coach Curt Cignetti said his staff “Saw it early on,” that before spring practice Cheek was going to be their starter. Cignetti said Cheek was always in the football offices watching film and that the hard work of the signal-caller off the field has paid off on the field.

- Elon is 8-2 overall. All eight wins been decided by eight points or fewer. Cignetti said the team’s confidence grew each week, which ultimately helped capture close games.