Programs are defined by accolades. Some come in the form of tangible hardware, but others come in scores remembered by fans for years.
JMU football is no stranger to both. It has two FCS National Championships and five CAA titles, but Dukes fans past and present remember four numbers that gave them bragging rights in the Commonwealth of Virginia: 21-16.
On Sept. 11, 2010, former JMU head coach Mickey Matthews led his team south on Interstate 81 to try and defeat Virginia Tech — a feat that had never been accomplished in the Dukes’ history. The two teams had faced each other six times before, with the Hokies leading the series 6-0 by a combined score of 245-44.
“I had already been with the Dukes four times previously to play VT at Lane Stadium, and it usually was pretty one-sided in favor of VT,” Darren Drury, an IT specialist at JMU who helps with football communications, said. “We always expect to win, but the previous games didn’t help with a confident feeling.”
Virginia Tech had gone 10-3 and won the Chick-fil-A Bowl over Tennessee in 2009 but had stumbled Week 1 of the 2010 season against then-No. 3 Boise State. On the other hand, the Dukes were coming off a 48-7 win over Morehead State and wanted to build off winning four consecutive games to end the previous season.
The line was Virginia Tech -31, according to PredictEm.com. Despite entering the game 0-1, the Hokies had future NFL quarterback Tyrod Taylor and were expected to bounce back in commanding fashion against their in-state rival from the Shenandoah Valley.
But Matthews, quarterback Drew Dudzik and JMU fans entered Lane Stadium with the hope to send shockwaves through the college football world. However, the odds still weren’t in their favor, and it was a great opportunity for the then-No. 13 team in FBS to lift itself back to a .500 record.
“I think fans on both sides knew what the outcome of this game was going to be, or at least what it was supposed to be,” Craig Schilpp (’95) said. “Because of that, there was really no tension. Everyone was just enjoying themselves and getting ready to watch some football. I had several Hokie fans come up to me beforehand to wish us good luck. The ‘you’re gonna need it’ was implied.”
Virginia Tech kicked off its chance to redeem itself at 1:34 p.m. The next 2 hours and 37 minutes would witness the biggest upset in JMU history — and arguably the most famous, too.
The Dukes’ first possession saw a little offensive progression, but they were forced to punt to the high-powered Hokie offense. Virginia Tech responded with a 17-play, 94-yard drive that took 8 minutes and 48 seconds off the clock and ended with Taylor finding tight end Jarrett Boykin for a 9-yard score. It was a suffocating drive that felt like the home team forced itself into the driver’s seat.
JMU’s offense struggled to begin the game as it failed to string together long drives while also being shut out for the first quarter. A VT field goal midway through the second made it 10-0, but it didn’t take long for magic to strike for the Dukes.
With under five minutes left in the first half, Dudzik found running back Jamal Sullivan for a 77-yard touchdown, clawing JMU back into the game at a crucial point. Tech added another field goal before halftime, but with the score at 13-7, the opportunity for an upset was there for the taking. It was up to the Dukes to orchestrate a second-half performance that'd etch their names in JMU history.
Virginia Tech made it a two-possession game following another field goal on its first drive of the second half. Down 16-7, Dudzik and the offense needed a spark to give them any chance of winning. Halfway through the third quarter, Dudzik took control of the game and strung together two scoring drives that would stun fans across the country.
“Drew played the best game of his career,” Matthews said to The Breeze in 2010. “I liked the way he handled the rain. And not turning the ball over was probably the difference in the game. It was the difference in the game.”
A grueling seven-minute drive ended with Dudzik scampering into the end zone from seven yards out to pull the Dukes within two. Taylor threw an interception in JMU territory during the Hokies’ next drive, giving JMU the chance to take the lead.
As nervous energy crept into the Hokie faithful as the game carried into the fourth quarter, it became clear that the Virginia Tech offense was stalling. It’d be up to the Hokies’ stout defense to avoid being the latest victim of an FCS upset.
Dudzik and Sullivan took turns running the ball during an eight-play, 62-yard drive that was completed by Dudzik finding the end zone with his feet once again. Leading for the first time in the game, JMU found itself minutes away from doing what was thought to be impossible.
“One of our coaches in the booth was a former player for VT, so this game had even more intensity for him as he coached the Dukes to defeat his former team,” Drury said. “In the closing minute when it looked like we were going to win, the coaches broke out in emotion and celebration, as we all knew this was a major moment for JMU football.”
Taylor and Co. had two opportunities to snatch victory away from the Dukes, but they couldn’t get past a defense that was locked in to finishing the job. The clock slowly but surely dwindled down to all zeroes, and with the score reading 21-16 in favor of JMU, celebrations began for the visiting fans and those watching from Harrisonburg and beyond.
It was a mixture of shock, joy and raw emotions. It was a win that gave JMU nation the ability to talk to Hokie fans about a fateful day in Blacksburg and remind them of one of the major upsets in both programs’ histories.
“This was a game we weren’t supposed to win,” Schilpp said. “Even at halftime with the score still close, I kept thinking to myself, ‘Tech’s going to turn it on and light us up at any moment.’ But it never happened. Tech made several costly mistakes which helped. But JMU played solid, error-free football and got it done. They could have played that game a hundred times, and Tech would have won the other 99. I’m just glad this was the one.”
JMU would go on to finish the season 6-5 (3-5 CAA) while the Hokies went on to win the ACC and earn a bid to the 2010 Orange Bowl.
The game didn’t drastically alter either program, but for the Dukes, it led to the realization of what the program could become. The famous 21-16 win showed JMU can compete with any program — no matter the size nor the amount of future NFL prospects it had. Ten years from Sept. 11, 2010, the program has blossomed into one of the most powerful in all of FCS — one that routinely competes with FBS-level schools.
The chant “We beat Tech” is belted by JMU fans at any opportunity. In College GameDay’s two visits to Harrisonburg, the same words were yelled in unison for nationwide viewers of the show to hear. It’s a phrase that pokes fun at its in-state rival, but it’s one that also signifies how much the win meant to JMU.
The Dukes and Hokies will meet again in 2025. Both programs could see massive changes within the next five years, but until the teams kick off in the rematch that fans have wanted for years, Dukes faithful will enjoy the phrase that opened the gate for in-state bragging rights:
JMU beat Virginia Tech, 21-16, and they won’t let you forget it.
Contact Noah Ziegler and Savannah Reger at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.