CAA

CAA Rewind: Despite Dominant Close, JMU Slighted While Richmond Is Snubbed

CAA Rewind: Despite Dominant Close, JMU Slighted While Richmond Is Snubbed

Despite a strong finish to an undefeated spring season — and a No. 1 ranking — JMU finds itself as the No. 3 overall seed in the FCS Playoffs.

Apr 19, 2021 by Kyle Kensing
CAA Rewind: Despite Dominant Close, JMU Slighted While Richmond Is Snubbed

No. 1 in the rankings, No. 3 in playoff seeding?

Such is the wonky math for James Madison heading into the postseason, with the Dukes seeded behind Southland Conference championship Sam Houston and No. 1-overall seed South Dakota State. 

Saturday against rival Richmond, James Madison improved to 19-1 against FCS competition since the beginning of the 2019 season. The lone loss came at the culmination of the last Playoffs with the Dukes just yards shy of a potential overtime-forcing play against North Dakota State. 

James Madison of this spring season is a different team than the squad that took the NDSU dynasty to the limit 15 months ago, but the 2020/21 Dukes experienced little dropoff in winning 4-of-5 by at least 17 points. 

Their last two wins — 38-10 at William & Mary and the 23-6 defeat of Richmond — were the most complete of the Dukes’ five regular-season victories. The latter over a Spiders bunch ranked No. 12 in the FCS STATS Top 25 came after the NCAA Selection Committee released an early poll that had James Madison on top. 

“We’ve been playing this lack-of-respect thing a little bit here the last couple games with last night’s developments and then today’s,” Dukes coach Curt Cignetti said on a Zoom call shortly after the bracket reveal show. 

Saturday night’s development to which Cignetti alluded was the selection of Delaware for the Colonial Athletic Association’s automatic qualifying bid into the Playoffs. The Fightin’ Blue Hens finished the truncated regular season with a 5-0 mark matching that of James Madison, but played one CAA game more than the Dukes. 

Delaware draws Northeast Conference champion Sacred Heart in the 1st Round, the Blue Hens earning the unofficial No. 5 seed in the Playoffs (only the top four received official seeding). 

James Madison, meanwhile, returns to Bridgeforth Stadium to face VMI. The Southern Conference champion Keydets are in the Playoffs for the first time in program history, deploying a potent, air-raid passing attack that averages more than 312 yards per game through the air. 

Cignetti said plainly he was not looking any further ahead down the bracket — which, on James Madison’s side, features Sam Houston, North Dakota State and Eastern Washington, all of which combine with JMU for 16 Championship Game appearances since the 2010 campaign. 

Looking ahead for him suggests the selection committee tipped its hand when it unveiled a one-loss South Dakota State as the tournament’s top-overall seed. The Missouri Valley Football Conference claimed a staggering four of the six at-large bids in this shortened postseason, and a Dukes win over VMI guarantees James Madison a matchup with the MVFC. Missouri State plays North Dakota in the 1st Round matchup on the Dukes’ quadrant.  

Spiders Successful Spring

With one conference gobbling up so many at-large bids, a quality team outside of the MVFC was destined to be excluded. Richmond was that team. 

The Spiders finished the spring 3-1 behind one of the stingiest defenses in the nation, and gave James Madison a fight until the Dukes broke away late. 

Although Richmond missed the playoff field, the spring season was hardly a failure. 

“This spring has been a huge success. For us to get an opportunity to play four games; four our guys to come together the way they did, to work like they did, was a success,” said Spiders coach Russ Huesman on Saturday. 

Plenty of chatter ahead of the pandemic-impacted season questioned the viability of a spring season. While COVID-19 testing protocols resulted in a numerous cancelations, which may have ultimately kept a team like Richmond out of the Playoffs, getting to the finish line was its own reward. 

“I’m just really proud of my guys all around. I’m proud of my coaching staff,” said Spiders linebacker Tyler Dressler. “There’s no playbook for things like this. I think we did a great job overall, just coming to work every day. 

“This is a great way to propel us forward in the fall,” he added. 

After showing its many strengths in the spring, starting with a stout defense and including the all-around playmaking of Aaron Dykes and improved accuracy of quarterback Joe Mancuso, Richmond has reason to be excited about the fall. 

And following a playoff snub, the Spiders have reason to play angry when competition starts anew in just a few months. 

Villanova Goes Viral

Forget the spring: Dan Smith’s touchdown pass against Delaware will be tough to top as the most improbable football moment in all of 2021. 

The video exceeded one million views shortly after the conclusion of the Battle of the Blue, and by late Sunday approached four million. Smith also got the seal of approval from Super Bowl champion and NFL Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes. 

Working Blue

While Smith provided the most memorable play of the Battle of the Blue, Delaware came away with the rivalry trophy for the first time since the 2011 season. 

In what has been the Blue Hens’ M.O. all season, defense set the tone. Twice holding the Wildcats to field goals in the red-zone effectively won it for UD, particularly with the Blue Hens offense converting the ensuing possessions into touchdowns. 

The defining characteristic of Delaware’s has been its depth, and re-adding outstanding linebacker Colby Reeder certainly fortified the ranks even more. Reeder recorded a tackle-for-loss at Villanova. 

But after the ejection of Kedrick Whitehead for targeting just before halftime, Delaware needed someone else to step up. Nijuel Hill answered the call. 

Hill’s interception sealed the win and punctuated a game in which he also broke up a pair of passes.