It came down to the fourth quarter.
In the first home game in a month at a sold out Bridgeforth Stadium, on a cool fall afternoon in the valley against the No. 11 team, JMU football came to play against CAA foe Villanova. It came down to the wire, but mistakes on JMU’s part resulted in the Dukes’ first loss of the season, 28-27 — the first home loss against the Wildcats since 2009.
“We’re thrilled to death about coming away with [the] victory,” Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante said. “We did what we needed to do, came away with the victory … It’s just one of those crazy CAA games that came down to the last play of the game.”
JMU had every chance to win in the fourth quarter. Redshirt senior quarterback Cole Johnson led the Dukes to Wildcats territory twice and set up redshirt senior kicker Ethan Ratke twice to take the lead — Ratke missed both.
“I thought we would get another chance and we didn’t,” JMU head coach Curt Cignetti said. “You win as a team, you lose as a team. These games don’t come down to one play; our goal is to score touchdowns.”
Villanova went for a fourth & one after the second missed kick to seal the game. Graduate running back Justin Covington dove toward the line and sealed JMU’s first home loss since 2018.
“[I] just didn’t want to give them the ball back,” Ferrante said. “I know that if we didn’t convert that they’re pretty in field goal range already and it would’ve cost us the game.”
The Dukes had a 27-16 lead at the half but couldn’t get anything going in the third. Villanova graduate kicker Cole Bunce nailed two kicks in the third in addition to junior wide receiver Rayjoun Pringle’s 57-yard grab to take the lead — and the eventual game winner.
“[Smith] has got a strong arm,” Cignetti said. “[Pringle] has good ball skills … They made some plays.”
For three of four quarters, the Wildcats were the dominant team. It was the graduate quarterback Daniel Smith’s show as the Leesburg, Virginia, native maneuvered around and found an array of open receivers. It led to Villanova’s dominant showing in the first quarter and second half.
“I think our balance, which is what kept us going,” Smith said. “We just felt like our game plan that we went in with was really good.”
After the first quarter, Villanova led 13-10, outgaining the Dukes 205-75 yards and using the mobility of both Smith and graduate running back Justin Covington to make it through a porous JMU defensive line. Smith scored the first touchdown of the game on a 15-yard run, and Covington followed in suit, running 56 yards through the defense on the next drive.
The second quarter was the Dukes’ bright spot. Redshirt senior running back Percy Agyei-Obese scored two first-half touchdowns, one to open JMU’s long drive and scoring with a three-yard rush. The second was at the 7:03 mark in the second quarter, thanks to a turnover that set the Dukes up in the red zone.
“It was great having [Agyei-Obese] back,” Johnson said. “He really excelled in the first half … it’s nice to have him back.”
Despite the Wildcats’ first quarter fluidity, JMU’s defense and special teams kept the Dukes in it as the second quarter ticked by. With both a JMU blocked extra point and a fumble recovery, Johnson strung together two touchdowns in the second to keep the Wildcats at bay. In the end, the Dukes were shut out in the second half.
“I think they had some really good guys on defense,” Johnson said. “I think all around this Villanova defense is really good … we’re going to have to step up and play better in the second half next week.”
Johnson finished 24-for-40 with 174 yards, while Agyei-Obese had 83 yards and two touchdowns for JMU. Redshirt junior wide receiver Kris Thornton had 61 yards. Smith finished with 158 yards and a touchdown, Covington had 86 yards and a score and Pringle ended with 132 yards and a touchdown.
On the defense, redshirt junior linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey led the team with 10 tackles, followed by redshirt senior defensive lineman Mike Greene with eight. Graduate linebacker Forrest Rhyne had a dominant day for Villanova, talling 20 tackles.
“[Villanova] made one more play than we did,” Cignetti said. “I told our guys at the end of the game, ‘Nobody died here’. Learn from it, get better from it, handle it with maturity and class.”
JMU falls to 4-1 (2-1 CAA) and hits the road for two weeks with Richmond up first — kickoff is 2 p.m. Villanova improves to 5-1 (2-0 CAA) and heads home for a battle with Albany on Oct. 16.
Contact Savannah Reger at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.