Percy Agyei-Obese (copy)

JMU running back Percy Agyei-Obese runs the fall up the field, finally getting stoped by a Towson defender during the two teams meeting in 2018.

JMU football is preparing to take on Towson on Saturday in the Dukes' homecoming game. Staff writers Savannah Reger and Madison Hricik debate who's a bigger rival to the Dukes: Towson or Richmond. 

Richmond and JMU's history creates unparalleled rivalry

Savannah Reger | The Breeze

Richmond is, by far, JMU football’s biggest rival.

In 2004, JMU defeated all odds by winning the FCS National Championship, the first to its name. The Dukes took out Montana 31-21, and the party began in Harrisonburg — but not for long. The next year, the Spiders took the title and brought the trophy 130 miles southeast to the state capital.

Now, in 2019, there are three combined national championships between the two teams as well as 13 conference championships. The teams have matched up against each other 36 times, and the series split at 18 wins apiece. 

Some have argued that the Spiders have dropped off in the last couple of years, and they may not be JMU’s biggest rival anymore. But that’s not true, even though the Dukes have taken six of the last eight meetings. A couple of games don’t make a rivalry, history makes one — and that’s exactly what JMU and Richmond have.

The rivalry between these two teams started in the 1980s. What’s weird about it, though, is that the away team usually has the edge. In the 25 games that the two teams have been CAA rivals, the away team has won 15 times. There was even a streak in the 1990s where the visiting team won five consecutive times with Richmond taking three of those games and JMU taking the other two.

Then, there was the game in 2008 when Richmond almost had it won in Harrisonburg. With barely any time remaining, Richmond was up by three and punted the ball to JMU. That’s when redshirt junior return specialist Scotty McGee caught the ball and ran it back to the end zone to win the game for the Dukes 38-31.

History was made in 2015 when ESPN’s College Gameday came to Harrisonburg for the first time. Streamers flew across the thousands of people gathered on the Quad, and Lee Corso even put on the Duke Dog mascot head. The team that year was led by head coach Everett Withers and quarterbacked by Vad Lee.

JMU’s opponent for this historic game was none other than in-state rival Richmond. The Spiders came to town looking to prove that JMU wasn’t what it was hyped up to be, as they were still in the hunt to win the CAA. That game, Richmond had the upset, 59-49, as Lee went down with a broken ankle that kept him out for the rest of the season. That year, Richmond and JMU split the CAA title. Richmond ended that year losing to the eventual champions, North Dakota State, while JMU lost in the second round to Colgate.

In 2016, it was JMU that invaded Spider country with Bryan Schor at the helm. During JMU’s championship season, it had a number of close games, but none were as intense or as close as Richmond. The game was an offensive battle, and it came down to the final possession to decide a winner. JMU took the game 47-43 — JMU’s smallest margin of victory in series history — and continued the winning ritual on the road. That year, JMU won the 2016 FCS National Championship, while Richmond lost in the quarterfinals to Eastern Washington.

The next year, Richmond and JMU met for the 30th consecutive year, and it wasn’t like the previous meetings for two reasons. First, the game was low-scoring, unlike the two seasons prior. Second, JMU won at home, stopping the streak of three consecutive wins for the visiting team. The Dukes won 20-13, but the game was much closer than the seven-point gap, and Richmond tested the defending champs both on offense and defense.

Last year, JMU dominated Richmond 63-10 on the road. Richmond graduated an impactful senior class, and it was in a developing year while JMU had the opposite. For this reason, people may think the Spiders have dropped off and aren’t as strong as they used to be.

This doesn’t make Richmond any less of a rival to JMU. It’s a CAA opponent and has a history with the Dukes, and that’s something to keep an eye on. Anything can happen in CAA play, especially between JMU and Richmond. This rivalry is special and will once again be on display at Bridgeforth Stadium on Nov. 16.

Contact Savannah Reger at regersj@dukes.jmu.edu. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.

Towson is JMU football's biggest rival

Madison Hricik | The Breeze

Towson football is an up-and-coming rival for JMU football.

With only three home games left in the 2019 season, JMU football is preparing for an ideal ending to its season, and Towson is looking to put a damper on the Dukes’ plan. In their last three meetings, JMU beat Towson 38-17 in 2018, 51-30 in 2015 and 62-7 in 2014. Towson has had a hard few seasons with difficult opponents both in and outside of the CAA conference play, but it’s consistently been a contender against JMU.

Unlike Richmond, JMU and Towson don’t play often. The rivalry between the two teams was forged because of the FCS rankings, as well as hard-fought games during the years the teams have seen each other. JMU has held control of the scoreboard in most matchups, but some of these games were only won by one or two touchdowns or field goals. 

Despite sharing a conference, JMU and Towson have only played each other seven times in the last decade prior to this Saturday. JMU has left six of those seven matchups with a win. The time Towson won was in 2013, and it was the season the Tigers played in the FCS National Championship in Frisco, Texas, against North Dakota State.

JMU and Towson rank No. 2 and No. 17, respectively, in the most recent FCS Coaches’ Poll. The latter team will be coming to JMU after a 56-7 win over unranked Bucknell University. Meanwhile, JMU will enter the game undefeated in CAA play after a 38-10 win against William & Mary.

Most rivalries translate further than the football field, and JMU versus Towson is no different. It’s proven that teams other than football forge rivalries as well. Lacrosse, for example, has gone back and forth with Towson. JMU lacrosse has played Towson three times in two seasons with a fourth matchup scheduled for early April. 

The Tigers have a young football team, with 16 seniors, 26 juniors, 20 sophomores and 37 freshmen, making 57 players on the Tigers’ roster underclassmen, compared to the Dukes’ 63. JMU has 16 seniors, along with 26 juniors, 21 sophomores and 42 freshmen; the roster makeup is remarkably similar. However, the impact of JMU’s senior class has proven to be prominent. Announced early last week, five former Dukes were picked in the XFL Draft. Towson had two former players selected to the XFL and have eight former players in professional play, compared to JMU’s 10. 

With only three home games left in the regular season, the Dukes have the possibility of setting themselves up for the CAA title in the event they defeat the Tigers. This will give Towson more motivation to do what it can to stop the Dukes and give JMU its first loss at Bridgeforth Stadium this season. To further the stakes, all three home games are against currently non-ranked teams, meaning Towson is potentially the last chance at a marquee win for JMU. While this doesn’t change any possible outcome, it does look appealing for fans and the team to have a positive look on postseason play. The Towson matchup with JMU will prove that these two teams have a budding rivalry.

Contact Madison Hricik at hricikmn@dukes.jmu.edu. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.