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ODU Football Takes JMU Down to the Wire Before Falling to No. 25 Dukes, 30-27


Grant Wilson throws a pass on the run

By Harry Minium
HARRISONBURG, Va. – The game was supposed to be a blowout. James Madison, the nation's 25th-ranked team, was a 20 ½-point favorite over Old Dominion, a team that prognosticators had picked to finished last in the Sun Belt East.
But the Monarchs did more than play well. In a game that was not decided until the final play, JMU held off the Monarchs, 30-27, before a Bridgeforth Stadium record crowd of 26,239 and a national TV audience.
The Monarchs (4-4 overall, 3-2 Sun Belt Conference) rushed for 138 yards, the most JMU has given up on the ground this season, and if you take out sack yards, ODU had 174 rushing yards.
The ODU defense shut JMU out on the Dukes' last four possessions and quarterback Grant Wilson played his best game of the season, completing 26 of 36 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns.
But on a night when there was little margin for error, some key mistakes were all that separated the Monarchs from an upset victory.
"That one stings because we had them," ODU head coach Ricky Rahne said. "I thought our guys played their hearts out. We made too many mistakes. But we played tough. We have tough kids who were absolute warriors."
Rahne, who came to ODU after six seasons at Penn State, was visibly emotional after the narrow loss and paid homage to his team.
"You know, I've coached some great teams and some great players that I love," he said. "This team, man, I just like being around them, I like their fight. It's a joy."
Rahne delivered an emotional speech to his players following the game.
"I told them, you know, that life is full of heartache and joy," he said. "If you just don't invest anymore because there a lot of people on this earth who get their heart broken, and they just stop investing.
"And you never have any joy after that. You won't have as much pain, but you'll never have any joy ... I told them we have to go back and invest, that we should use this pain as fuel.
"This should hurt, but we've got to come back."
JMU (8-0, 5-1) led at the half, 14-10, in what had been a back-and-forth game when things went south on the Monarchs early in the third quarter.
A bobbled ball on the opening kickoff backed ODU up to its five, then a penalty drove the Monarchs back to the three. Wilson was then sacked in the end zone for a safety that advanced the lead to 16-10.
Then, what had been a defensive struggle suddenly turned into a scoring fest.
The Dukes drove 65 yards on 11 plays, with quarterback Jordan McCloud throwing three yards to Elijah Sarratt for the touchdown and a 23-10 JMU lead.
The Monarchs then struck right back, driving eight plays and 75 yards, with a 45-yard reception by Reymello Murphy the big play of the drive. The Monarchs appeared to score on a short pass from Wilson to Javon Harvey, but it was nullified by a holding penalty.
Undaunted, the Monarchs scored two plays later on another Wilson pass to Harvey, this one for 10 yards that cut the lead back to six, 23-17.
Reggie Brown hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from McCloud to build the lead back to 30-17 with 3:55 left in the third quarter.
ODU then took less than two minutes to narrow it back to six on a 21-yard run by Kadarius Calloway.
Ethan Sanchez then narrowed the margin to three, 30-27, with a 23-yard field goal with 10:14 to play.
ODU's defense gave the offense plenty of shots to win in the fourth quarter, holding the Dukes scoreless.
The Monarchs trailed by three with 4:36 left and began a drive that appeared to have potential.
Wilson passed 30 yards to Javon Harvey to move the ball near midfield. But on fourth and 11 at the ODU 46, a Wilson pass intended for Isiah Paige fell incomplete.
ODU's defense held again and the Monarchs got the ball back at their 10 with 32 seconds left but the game ended with JMU forcing a Wilson fumble.
"Grant played a really nice game," Rahne said. "He just operated the offense. Was every decision perfect? No. But that's not going to happen. But he played really well."
Wilson praised the offensive line and receivers for how they played.
"I was really happy with how our offense played," he said. "Obviously we had some mistakes. But our offense had a good game."
Defensive back Shawn Asbury, whose first-half interception set up an early Sanchez field goal, said the Monarchs will continue to improve.
"This is a good team," he said. "When we play together and we don't make mistakes, I feel like we can beat anybody.
"We've just got to stay together and get back to practicing and keep working hard."

NOTES: Shawn Asbury recorded his first interception of the season and second of his career. Asbury returned it 46 yards to set up an ODU field goal … It is the fourth defensive return of 40+ yards this season for ODU. Wayne Matthews had a 55-yard fumble return and LaMareon James returned a fumble for 80 yards, while James had a 66-yard interception return … Ethan Sanchez's 22-yard field goal was the first time this season a JMU opponent has scored first … Dominic Dutton registered his fifth catch of the season and third touchdown with his 58-yard grab in the second quarter … It is the fifth pass play of 50 yards or more this season for the Monarchs … Safety Markus Knight recorded his first career interception at the first half … Isiah Paige set a career-high with nine catches … Keshawn Wicks' 36-yard run in the third quarter was his longest of the season … ODU is the first team this season to rush for more than 100 yards in a game this season … Mario Thompson recorded the first sack of his career … Tahj Ra-El and Wayne Matthews had 10 tackles apiece.