With the season behind the team and as JMU enters a new chapter in its life with the departure of head coach Mike Houston and the arrival of Curt Cignetti, here’s a list of JMU football’s best games since 2000. Games with significance statistically, emotionally and in terms of team success, are all taken into account.
No. 10: 2004 - FCS Semifinals, No. 8 JMU at No.6 William & Mary
With one game to go to get to the FCS Championship game, JMU found itself squaring off against one of its longest standing rivals, William & Mary. JMU was No. 8 in the 2004 postseason while the Tribe came in at No. 6. In Williamsburg, Virginia, in a game that ran just shy of 3 ½ hours, the Dukes pulled away, going up 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. The Tribe would not go quietly, however, fighting back to 21-20 at halftime. The Dukes ended up winning 48-34 and claimed their spot in the FCS title game against Montana.
No. 9: 2014 - Week 12, No. 25 JMU at No.14 Richmond
Riding a five-game win streak into the capital of Virginia, the Dukes looked to move to 8-3 on the year, but the 14th-ranked Spiders stood in their way. JMU came out of the gates hot, scoring 31 points in the first half. Then-redshirt junior quarterback Vad Lee gashed the Spiders secondary, throwing for 433 yards and a pair of touchdowns, along with 22 yards on the ground and a rushing score, leading JMU to a 55-20 victory.
No. 8: 2015 - Week 4, No. 9 JMU at SMU (FBS)
In a thriller against FBS opponent SMU, the Dukes went stride for stride with the Mustangs, matching their score in each quarter and outscoring SMU 10-7 in the fourth quarter en route to a 48-45 victory. The highlight of the game wasn't that JMU beat an FBS opponent on the road, but rather the statistic output by then redshirt senior quarterback Lee. Lee threw for 289 yards in the win along with 276 yards on the ground, leading the Dukes to the victory and a 4-0 start to the 2015 season.
No. 7: 2012 - Week 7, No .4 JMU vs. William & Mary
Back in 2012, the Dukes were ranked fourth in the FCS and started off the season with a blistering 5-1 record, their only loss coming to FBS opponent West Virginia. Winners of their last three games and looking to stretch that streak further against their longtime rival William & Mary, the Dukes entered the game as favorites. After starting out slow the Dukes rallied back and held a 17-14 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Tribe knocked in a late field goal to tie the game, but missed a potential game winning field goal with one second left. After trading field goals in the first overtime period, JMU scored first in the second overtime, going up 27-20. The Tribe marched right back and scored but elected to go for two in an attempt to steal away a win on the road. Then senior safety Jakarie Jackson stopped the two-point conversion and the Dukes escaped with a win, moving to 5-1 on the year.
No. 6: 2010 - Week 2, FCS No. 11 JMU (FCS) at No. 13 Virginia Tech (FBS)
The Dukes went down 7-0 early in Blacksburg, Virginia, in front of a crowd over 66,000. The last time JMU had faced off against Virginia Tech was when the Hokies were No. 9 in the nation in 2003. JMU was blown out 43-0 and seven years later the program looked to shock the nation and make up for the previous loss. The Dukes made good on that goal by beating the Hokies 21-16, outscoring them 14-3 in the second half and stunning the stadium packed with Virginia Tech loyals. While statistically this game didn’t hold any eye popping numbers, the win alone will forever be one of Virginia Tech's biggest upsets in program history.
No. 5: 2017 - FCS quarterfinals, No. 1 JMU vs. No. 11 Weber State
Last year the Dukes were looking to run the table as the FCS No. 1 seed and make it back to FCS Championship game. The Dukes met unseeded Weber State in the quarterfinals, trying to get to the FCS championship game for the third time in program history. The game was close at the half, with the Dukes leading 10-7, but Weber State stormed back in the second half. JMU found itself down eight with just over three minutes remaining. After a quick drive ending with a touchdown and two point conversion, the Dukes got the ball back with 1:06 left on the clock. After the Dukes moved into field goal range, redshirt freshman kicker Ethan Ratke nailed a 46-yard field goal — the longest in the program’s postseason history — as time expired to lift the Dukes past the Wildcats.
No. 4: 2004 - FCS quarterfinals, JMU vs. Furman
Riding the wave of their most successful team in program history up until that point, the Dukes started off slow in a defense-heavy game, neither team scoring in the first quarter of play. JMU had never won more than one game in its five previous playoff appearances. JMU found itself trailing 13-7 entering the fourth quarter. With roughly five minutes remaining, Furman attempted a safety-net field goal that was blocked by JMU, its second block of the game. With 5:11 left on the clock, the Dukes began a picture-perfect drive, going 74 yards capped off by a one-yard touchdown from then senior running back Raymond Hines with 28 seconds left in the game to give the Dukes the win and vault them into the FCS Semifinal game.
No. 3: 2004 - FCS Championship, JMU vs. Montana
Appearing in their very first FCS Championship game, the Dukes could taste glory, just one win away from making a permanent mark on JMU football and the FCS. JMU started slow and looked nervous and uncomfortable, shut out through the entire first quarter. The Dukes finally got on the scoreboard with 8:54 left in the second quarter thanks to a 28-yard field goal. Later that quarter the Dukes scored from one yard out to head into halftime with a 10-7 lead. JMU didn’t look back, outscoring the Grizzly Bears 21-14 in the second half on the way to winning 31-21 and leaving Chattanooga, Tennessee, as champions of the FCS.
No. 2: 2016 - FCS semifinals, No. 4 JMU vs. No. 1 North Dakota State
North Dakota State has been the most dominant program in the FCS over the past 10 years, winning six FCS titles in the past seven seasons. The Dukes were looking to change things and make a statement to reach their second FCS title game in program history. The Dukes focused on starting and finishing strong, shutting out NDSU in the first and fourth quarters while holding the Bison to just 17 points total. Even with twice as many penalties, JMU outperformed the Bison in most key statistic columns. The Dukes racked up more passing and rushing yards. The Dukes had nearly 100 more total yards, averaging 7.6 yards per play all with 19 less offensive plays than the Bison. Then junior quarterback Bryan Schor and then senior running back Khalid Abdullah led the Dukes on offense with Schor passing for 242 yards, three scores and one interception while Abdullah torched the Bison for 187 yards on the ground. JMU topped the Bison 27-17 en route to the 2016 FCS national championship.
No. 1: 2016 - FCS Championship No. 4 JMU vs. No. 13 Youngstown State
The most successful JMU football season in history ended with the Dukes walking off the field as champions of the FCS. After jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, JMU didn’t look back, trouncing the Penguins 28-14. Abdullah finished his JMU career on a high note, topping 100 yards on the ground as well as rushing for two scores. It took a group defensive effort from the Dukes to knock off the Penguins. Nine players on the defense had three or more tackles highlighted by then junior defensive back Jordan Brown who had seven tackles as well as then senior linebacker Gage Steele who had six tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup. JMU finished its 14-1 season, undefeated against FCS opponents and capped it all off with the biggest win in program history.
Contact Grayson Heflin at Heflingt@dukes.jmu.edu. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.