For those of you who don't follow I-AA, let me introduce you to the James Madison Dukes. Currently, the Dukes are on a lucky streak that rivals, if not surpasses, that of Boise State a few years ago. They are also number 1 in the "FCS" Polls, that's the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as I-AA, and have been since toppling defending champs Appalachian State, who most of you remember beat Michigan last year, in an astounding come-from-behind smash-mouth victory.
The Dukes have won three of their last five games in steller, down-to-the-wire fashion.
To start, take a look back to September 20th, when then-number 1 App State came to play the #5 ranked Dukes. A packed, rowdy crowd watched JMU go down 21-0 in what looked like a blowout. Then, junior Scotty McGee ran the opening kick-off back for a 99-yard touchdown, igniting the crowd and the team. The defense forced a three and out for App state, and two plays later, QB Rodney Landers ran it for a 62-yard TD.
A Landers interception gave App State a field goal opportunity, but another quick drive down field by the Dukes, set up by excellent field position from a McGee return, scored again, making the game 24-21. A goal-line fumble gave the ball back to the Dukes, who drove down field to score and go ahead 28-24. Another score by JMU put the Dukes up 35-24, but App State was not finished.
A 51-yard drive, touchdown and two-point conversion put the App State Mountaineers behind 35-32, needing only a field goal to tie the game and send it into overtime. The onside kick was recovered by JMU, then reset due to an offsides penalty. The crowd waited with baited breath as the Mountaineers kicked the ball...and it was promptly covered up by reserve QB Drew Dudzik. Three run plays and a pooch punt by QB Rodney Landers ended the game there, and the ecstatic student body rushed the field.
Jump ahead a few weeks to October 11. #1 JMU at #5 Richmond. There were five lead changes over the course of this game, and none greater than when the JMU Dukes scored and converted a two-point play to tie the game 31-31 with 59 seconds left in the game. The Dukes D quickly forced a punt, and, for some strange reason, the Richmond Spiders punted the ball right to JMU returner Scotty McGee. While the fans at home and at the game were screaming for him to get out of bounds, the junior CB dodged the defense and high-stepped into the end zone with one second left on the game clock.
The decision to punt the ball to McGee when all they had to do was get it out of bounds and we were in OT will most likely haunt Richmond for the rest of the season.
Finally, we look at last week's game. Down by two against #7 Villanova with just over a minute left, the Duke's secure good field position on poor punt at their own 34-yard line. Despite the wind and rain, QB Rodney Landers rushed for 11 yards and completed two passes, converting on fourth down, to get within 35 yards of the end-zone, 4th and 2, no timeouts and 4.3 seconds left on the clock. Landers held onto the ball and lobbed a hail Mary into the end zone, where it was tipped by two Villanova players and fell into the hands of Bosco Williams for the score and the win as time expired.
With the win, the Dukes head home to face Delaware for homecoming, maintaining their spot on top of the polls by sheer will and good old fashioned luck.