jmuvsrichmond43 (copy)

JMU head coach Curt Cignetti and the Dukes will enjoy a first-round bye in the FCS Playoffs.

One year ago, JMU football was shocked when it learned it wouldn’t be a top-eight seed. The Dukes had to battle against Delaware and then hit the road to face Colgate. This year, the 2019 FCS Selection Show was viewed with laughter and teammates joking with one another and not dampened by being snubbed.

As they watched the show on ESPNU at Bridgeforth Stadium, the Dukes waited to see their playoff map. They knew they were in, but when the committee revealed that JMU was the second seed, it meant the Dukes would be the very last team to learn their fate since they were placed at the bottom of the bracket. 

Each team was unveiled, followed by a discussion from the panel on the nationally televised broadcast. Twenty-three minutes into the show, the Dukes finally saw their name called. Slotted at the No. 2 seed, JMU has a bye in the first round and will face the winner of Holy Cross and Monmouth in the second round. JMU hasn’t played either school in program history. 

“I don’t think it’s a surprise,” head coach Curt Cignetti said. “We’ve taken care of business, and I think everybody knew we’d be there, and we were.”

JMU won’t have to travel unless it makes the National Championship in Frisco, Texas. The top two seeds in the playoffs earn home-field advantage, meaning Bridgeforth Stadium could see three more games this season. 

Defending title holder North Dakota State earned the top seed on the back of a 12-0 (8-0 MVFC) season. If both NDSU and JMU take care of business, a repeat of the 2017 National Championship game will be in the cards this January. 

Two other CAA teams saw their names appear: Albany (8-4, 6-2 CAA) and Villanova (9-3, 5-3 CAA). The Great Danes finished second in the CAA and sealed their playoff spot with a 31-26 win over Stony Brook. They’ll face Central Connecticut State in the first round, where the winner will face fifth-seeded Montana State. 

Villanova handled Delaware 55-33 to finish its regular season. The Wildcats started 6-0 before falling to JMU in October, which began a three-game losing streak. Villanova responded with three consecutive wins that put them in the playoffs. 

Weber State, Sacramento State, Montana State and Montana are the No. 3 through 6 seeds, respectively. South Dakota State earned the No. 7 seed and Central Arkansas the No. 8. 

“Right now, the goal has to be to get to Frisco,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Ron’Dell Carter said. “Not looking forward, not looking past anyone, just focusing on what we gotta focus on now.”

The playoff road could see JMU face teams it saw in the 2017 edition of the playoffs. In the quarterfinals, the Dukes could host South Dakota State — a repeat of the 2017 semifinals matchup where JMU demolished the Jackrabbits 51-16. 

If it’s all chalk, JMU will host Weber State in the semifinals. The two teams squared off in the 2017 quarterfinals, where redshirt junior kicker Ethan Ratke drilled a field goal as time expired to secure the victory.

2019 FCS Playoffs - JMU

“We just know what it’s like to be here, how it is and the focus that we need to bring to each and every practice and each and every game,” redshirt senior linebacker Dimitri Holloway said. 

JMU finished its regular season with a commanding 55-21 win over Rhode Island, extending the win streak to 11. The Dukes haven’t lost since late August, when they fell to West Virginia. 

“You gotta earn your way to get to what you want. You gotta play good teams, so you just gotta be ready to go, and you gotta play,” head coach Curt Cignetti said. “We’ll practice Tuesday and Wednesday, send the players home for Thanksgiving … We’ll see them again Monday.”

The Dukes will watch Holy Cross and Monmouth this weekend as they prepare for they second-round matchup. JMU will host the winner of that game on Dec. 7 at 1 p.m. 

Contact Noah Ziegler at breezesports@gmail.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.

There comes a time where an athlete realizes their true potential. When I realized that I was never going to make a living on the court, I figured I’d make it on the sidelines. I hope to be able to attend and cover the World Cup and NCAA tournament.