Eagles Knock Off #25 James Madison

On Saturday, the Eagles prevailed against the 25th-ranked team in the country in a conference battle.

After going three up and three down on multiple possessions, the Eagles found the spark needed to get back into the game after a 52-yard pass from Kyle Vantrease.

On the very next possession, the Eagle’s defense stood tall, forcing a punt in the JMU end zone. Defensive coordinator Will Harris sent the house. This resulted in linebacker Joshua Thompson getting a clean block and falling on the ball for the touchdown. Paulson Stadium erupted as cheers were heard miles away.

Prior to the game, on the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles have struggled, giving up 30.3 points per game while also ranking last in the conference by allowing 454.2 yards per contest.

The trend continued as JMU had nearly broken the 400-yard mark by half. Although the Dukes had over double the yards, they were only able to grab a 3-point lead at halftime.

To kick off the second half, the Eagles tried an unexpected onside kick which ended in disaster with JMU having a short field to work with, they quickly marched into the end zone for an easy six, extending their lead to 24-14.

On the first play of the next drive, wide receiver Jalin White made a 75-yard catch to pull the Eagles within six. At this point in time, a stop wasn’t wanted, it was needed.

Southern’s offensive turnover struggles in the second half ended tonight. Vantrease leads the Sun Belt with 1,933 passing yards for the season.

The third quarter was a battle with each team searching to find that edge over the other. The Eagles were able to tie the game at 24 with a long field goal from Alex Raynor. At the five-minute mark, the Eagles found the separation they needed with yet another explosive touchdown along the sideline from White, extending the lead to 31-24.

Running across the 40-yard line, JMU receiver Reggie Brown was able to catch a pass, but not before getting absolutely obliterated by linebacker Khadry Jackson causing a fumble and a turnover.

The Eagles were able to capitalize with a field goal, extending the lead to 34-24 with just one quarter left to play. Vantrease had thrown a record-breaking 55 passes and had an astounding 450 yards for the night.

“The defense came to life in the second half. We had finally woken up and with the crowd’s support, it was easy to ride the wave all the way to the end,” said running back coach Matt Merritt.

In the second half, JMU was only able to capture 175 yards of offense, which opened the door. On the contrary, the Eagles’ passing attack was simply too much for the Dukes to handle. Only having 12 rushing yards on the night did not trouble the offense one bit.

For the Eagles, the fourth quarter was a race to see the clock expire. Each team had to punt until the Dukes scored in 36 seconds on 3 plays, silencing the crowd. The score brought the Dukes’ deficit to 34-31.

With four minutes left, all the Eagles needed was a touchdown to put the game away but came up short after a dropped pass. Once again they were able to use the spread offense effectively. The field goal extended the lead to 37-31

Only being down by six, JMU just needed one score to seal the deal. No timeouts and only 2:30 to play, but they were able to regain the lead of 38-37 off a hard-earned drive.

After several third-down completions to stay alive, Burgess Jr. leaped over two defenders to make a game-saving grab to put the Eagles in the red zone to take the lead.

A screen pass was thrown to Burgess Jr. and he was able to dance for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:10 left which erupted the crowd. Helton decided to go for two, in an attempt to stretch the lead to seven, which was too much for the Dukes to overcome in the end.