My job is to analyze and write about college football betting. I like to think I’m pretty good at my job, which is one reason why I spent a lot of time this week talking about JMU +7.
Even I could not have been clairvoyant enough to foresee the game script for James Madison’s incredible 32-28 win over App State.
A Comeback for the Ages
With four minutes left in the third quarter, JMU lined up to go for it on 4th and 5 from the App State 16.
“No!” I yelled at my television, with a few friends scattered around my living room here in Richmond. JMU trailed 28-10, and a field goal would make it a two-score game.
But Curt Cignetti wanted to roll the dice. Clearly, the Madison coaching staff felt that JMU’s offense held an advantage over App State’s defense, and they wanted to keep the pressure on.
It was a defining moment in the game. The score was 28-10, but JMU’s second-half defense was holding up well, and it was starting to feel just a little bit like the next team to score might be the side to seize the win.
Fourth down. The snap to Centeio. He needed five yards.
He got 14, then tumbled into the end zone on a keeper one play later.
From there, the avalanche let loose. JMU forced another punt, then ripped off a 92-yard touchdown drive. The Dukes capped it with a two-point conversion, and suddenly, it was a three-point game.
Then, Jailin Walker happened.
If App State wasn’t shell shocked before, it certainly was now. Walker – the replacement for Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey, who transferred to Texas this offseason – came up with one of the team’s top plays of the year with an outstanding interception and return.
Suddenly inside the 10-yard line, Centeio handed it off to Kaelon Black, who hammered his way through tackles on consecutive runs to give the Dukes the go-ahead lead.
Then came maybe the most masterful part of the whole game: The clock-killing drive to seal the win.
JMU forced another three-and-out, getting the ball back with more than nine minutes to play. Offensive Coordinator Mike Shanahan called an outstanding 13-play drive that left App State with just 2:06 to go 90 yards.
App State has pulled a rabbit out of the hat before, but the JMU defense got the job done. This time, it was Que Reid with the game-sealing play.
Anticlimactic ending aside, it was an outstanding comeback that will be talked about for decades in Harrisonburg. Great quarterback play. Great defense. Great coaching. Everything worked in tandem to stop the bleeding and get out of Boone with JMU’s first-ever Sun Belt win.
Time is a Flat Circle
For fans of a certain age, it’s hard to watch Saturday’s game and not immediately think of the epic 2008 game at Bridgeforth, where No. 1 App State led No. 5 JMU 21-0 at halftime but lost 35-32.
This was the reprise. It was glorious.
More on Madison: The 7 Biggest JMU Games of All Time
We’re Going to Forget A Lot of the Garbage (And Maybe We Shouldn’t)
Let’s pay some lip service to why JMU had such an epic comeback in the first place. The Dukes trailed 28-3 late in the second quarter after a lethal combination of turnovers, leaky pass defense and missed scoring opportunities.
Here are the JMU drives from the first half:
- Field goal
- Turnover on downs
- Missed Field Goal
There was a lot of bad stuff in there, and I’m not just talking about the results.
This game will be talked about for a long time – and rightfully so! – but there’s plenty to improve on in the coming weeks.
Eligibility penalties are temporary; media frenzy is forever. There’s already been an explosion of JMU content on the national stage this season in a way that’s just impossible for most FCS programs, but the media focus really went to a new level after the App State win.
How about these great game stories from Wayne Epps (RTD) and Noah Fleischman, too?!
Keep an Eye on ESPN College GameDay Locations
JMU should be heavily favored to win its next two games, which means it could be 6-0 if it scores another tough road win at Georgia Southern. That opens up the very real possibility of ESPN’s College GameDay returning to Harrisonburg for the third time for an Oct. 22 Homecoming date with Marshall.
Personally, I’m skeptical of the notion that ESPN would hit two Sun Belt schools in the same season. And as much as Rece Davis (and obviously Lee Fitting) seems to love JMU, it’s tough to imagine the show would broadcast in front of Wilson three times in eight years. There are just too many other locations that deserve some shine.
You can’t rule anything out, though. The storylines are just too good.
Let’s Put This One To Bed
I have been publicly critical of how adolescent some portions of the JMU fan base can sound – especially after a loss. JMU loses so infrequently these days that losses often become these Nyxian black holes from which dramatic, all-encompassing conclusions must be drawn.
“Ethan Ratke had a rare off day; that Cignetti guy just can’t coach!” Stuff like that, which we saw after the Villanova loss last fall.
Cignetti has attracted a small group of message board heroes who love to lay every mishap, empty possession or outright loss at the feet of Cignetti – the man who is now 36-5 as a head coach at JMU.
The 36th of those wins is, naturally, the sweetest of them all. So yeah… it’s a tough day to be a card-carrying Cignetti critic.
App State is the Most Neutral Chaotic CFB Machine That We Have Right Now
Every week, I write up my college football best bets for our BetMGM blog, the Roar. And as I mentioned earlier, I was pretty high this week on JMU plus the points.
A huge part of that is the expertise I can bring to handicapping JMU games, but the other massive portion is App State. How much drama can one team experience in one month?
Week 1: North Carolina 63, App State 61. App State scored 40 points in the fourth quarter, which sounds crazy enough, but the ending was somehow crazier.
App State scored what looked like the game-tying touchdown with 31 seconds left… except they decided to go for two and try to win the game, where Chase Brice promptly lofted the ball too high and missed a wide-open receiver who could have walked into the end zone.
App State attempted an onside kick. All North Carolina had to do was fall on it, and the game would be over. Instead, North Carolina ran it back for a touchdown, which pushed the lead back to eight points, 63-55. App State could once again tie the game if they could find the end zone – which, of course, it did with nine seconds to play. But once again, the two-point conversion was a miss, and the game finally, mercifully ended.
Week 2: App State 17, Texas A&M 14. This win is a little flukier than people realize when you consider the advanced statistical profile of the game, but it was still an awesome win for the Mountaineers in College Station. Regardless of how the rest of the season goes, this will be a huge win for recruiting.
Week 3: App State 32, Troy 28. College GameDay came to town, but so did Troy. The Mountaineers probably did not deserve to win this game, but the miraculous Hail Mary that you’ve now seen a thousand times bailed App State out.
Now, Week 4: JMU 32, App State 28. The Mountaineers found themselves defending the most dangerous lead in football history, 28-3. Once JMU realized they weren’t Congressionally mandated to keep turning the ball over, the Dukes ripped off a 29-0 scoring run to win the game.
That’s one month of football. Most fan bases don’t see that much drama in four years, let alone for weeks. How is any of this emotionally sustainable?!
As If It Couldn’t Get Any Better…
Hey, remember that one time when JMU rocked Middle Tennessee, three weeks ago? Well…
Middle Tennessee is now 3-1.
Say It With Me, All Together: “Polls Don’t Matter”
One of my favorite topics to discuss on The Lion’s Edge – my college football betting podcast for BetMGM – is when polls do or don’t matter.
Exposure for smaller schools? Relevance for mid-level programs? Free university marketing? Generating public interest or awareness? Absolutely. Top 25 votes matter.
As a public measuring stick on how good your team is? Ehh.
We’re going to see a lot of chatter over the next week (or two, or three) about how JMU should be ranked in the AP Poll. And perhaps they should!
But remember: JMU got an awesome win this past weekend. The team doesn’t need a number next to its name for the win to mean something, and fans shouldn’t either.