After 60 minutes of trying to physically and mentally dominate their opponent in the 35th edition of a heated rivalry, players from JMU and Richmond’s football teams made their way to the sixth floor of Bridgeforth Stadium. Just minutes after a thrilling game that saw the Spiders drop their fifth game of the season — their fourth by seven points or less — players from Richmond didn’t spend the game venting about officiating or sulking about how close they came to beating the team billed as the nation’s best. Instead, head coach Russ Huesman and his players faced the cameras and talked about their respect and admiration for a team that likely ended their playoff chances.
“They find ways to win,” Huesman said. “They’re an excellent football team. I’ve said it all along, they’re well coached. Mike [Houston] has an excellent staff and their kids play hard.”
Redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Lauletta spoke about the words he shared with JMU’s senior quarterback Bryan Schor following the defeat.
“I said, ‘Hey if there’s another guy that I would want to win the league and go out and win the national championship, it’s him,’” Lauletta said. “I’ve talked to him a number of times and he’s an outstanding person and he’s an outstanding football player. I have a ton of respect for him and I wish him the best … he’s as good of a guy as they come.”
Yes, there’s no one that Lauletta, the face of JMU’s largest rival, would rather see win the national title than Schor. The respect goes both ways, as Schor had kind words for Lauletta following the win.
“I told him he’s a great player, I enjoy watching him,” Schor said. “It’s just mutual respect. You know, I’ve watched him develop through the years here, me being at JMU, him being at Richmond. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a really talented player and a really respectful guy who loves the game.”
OK, as a JMU fan this is a little alarming, but at least head coach Mike Houston didn’t compliment the Spiders, right?
“Kyle Lauletta is just as good a quarterback as there is around,” Houston said. “Maybe not quite as good as the one that I have in my helm, but he’s certainly a close second. A lot of respect for them and the way they played.”
As a JMU fan, it’s easy to be concerned. The Spiders and the Dukes aren’t supposed to get along. JMU supporters were supposed to band together this week in mutual dislike of an in-state rival. Well, maybe that’s not exactly the case. Maybe the two teams can have a phenomenally intense rivalry, while still being friends and respected peers off the gridiron.
A week after brawls defined the NFL’s slate of games, it’s nice to see teams competing at a high level, while still treating each other with respect. Sure, there were a few unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, but the two teams clearly showed understanding of their opponents’ talent. Respecting your competitor doesn’t diminish the rivalry, either. In fact, it might even improve it.
Also, rivalries are somehow better when the team you want to beat the absolute brakes off of has guys you like. Russ Huesman and Kyle Lauletta are good folk.— Jason Krech (@JasonKrech) November 12, 2017
There’s going to be a closeness between JMU and Richmond in future matchups. This year, 21 players on JMU’s roster are either from Richmond or a Richmond suburb. Players on both sides competed against each other in high school and in some instances were even on the same team. With this level of familiarity, the intensity is going to be high as the players want to beat the guys they’ve been squaring off against for years.
That intensity has led to great contests the past three years, with the Dukes outscoring the Spiders by just one point (116-115) across the three matchups. In 2015, Richmond spoiled JMU’s homecoming and ESPN’s “College GameDay” visit with a 59-49 win. Last year, JMU used fourth-quarter touchdowns to earn a hard-fought 47-43 victory. This year, the Dukes used a Trai Sharp touchdown in the final minute to win by seven. Houston expects much of the same in future matchups.
“What a game,” Houston said. “I’ve been in two of these now and they both went down to the final drive, so I guess I better get used to this [being] what JMU-Richmond is like every year.”
If the Dukes and Spiders perform on the field the way they have the past three years and treat each other with the respect they had this season, fans are in for not only a tremendous show, but also a perfect example of the highest level of sportsmanship. As a student at JMU and a massive college football fan, I can’t ask for anything more.
Contact Bennett Conlin at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter at @TheBreezeSports.