College Football: James Madison 35, Appalachian State 32
By Hank Kurz Jr.
HARRISONBURG, Va. ó Rodney Landers and James Madison got the revenge they had waited months for Saturday night, and did it in the sweetest of ways, rallying from a 21-0 halftime deficit to beat three-time defending national champion Appalachian State 35-32.
The Dukes (3-1), whose decision to go for a game-clinching fourth-and-1 last year in the playoffs started a remarkable collapse that ended with the Mountaineers winning 28-27, converted in a similar scenario this time and left a sellout crowd delerious at the end.
Appalachian State (1-2), which pulled within 35-32 on a touchdown with 1:42 to play and Armanti Edwards’ 2-point conversion run, failed to recover an onside kick with 1:40 remaining and James Madison ran out the clock to seal perhaps its biggest home victory ever.
And once again, the key was a fourth-down play.
This time, facing fourth-and-1 at the Mountaineers’ 24, quarterback Rodney Landers handed off to Griff Yancey, who burst up the middle for 6 yards. A facemasking penalty and a 3-yard run by Landers brought it to the 4, and Eugene Holloman did the rest, taking a pitch as the entire line headed right and racing untouched to the left corner to make it 28-24.
Nearly 11 minutes remained, and the night only got better for the Dukes.
The Mountaineers responded by driving deep into Dukes territory, but on a first-and-10 from the 29, Robert Welton carried the ball inside the 15 and was still grinding when Jamie Veney stripped the ball and Gerren Griffin recovered for JMU as the stadium erupted.
James Madison promptly drove 87 yards, Landers taking it in from the 1 with 2:31 to play, and the Dukes fans ó many who had tailgated all day long ó began celebrating in earnest.
The Mountaineers made it interesting, getting a long pass from Edwards to Josh Johnson and a 2-yard run by Welton for their final score, but the Dukes secured the onside kick.
For the entire first half, it looked like another heartbreak for the Dukes as App State ignored more than 16,000 rowdy fans in Bridgeforth Stadium and dominated behind Edwards.
Playing a field position game that saw the Dukes start two of their first three drives deep in their own territory, the Mountaineers got a 6-yard scoring run from Devon Moore on their second possession and two touchdowns in the second to seemingly take control.
Edwards, a dual-threat lefthander, had a 12-yard run on the first scoring drive, and rolled left and hit Johnson in the back of the end zone from 11 yards out for the second.
He also got loose for a 14-yard run and then hit Coco Hillary for 31 yards on the third TD drive, which Welton capped with four straight runs, the last for 2 yards up the middle.
By then, Dukes fans ó many in purple t-shirts with the words “revenge is sweet” across the back ó had started to boo, fearing another disappointment was becoming inevitable.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Scotty McGee returned the opening kickoff of the second half 99 yards for a touchdown, and after App State went three-and-out, Landers faked a handoff and went off right tackle, found himself in open space and went 62 yards for a touchdown, pumping his fist as he crossed in the end zone.
Just 2:17 had been played, and the Dukes were within 21-14.
After Jason Vitaris kicked a 30-yard field goal for App State, the Dukes needed just two plays ó the second Landers’ 35-yard scoring pass to a wide open Yancey ó to make it 24-21.
Three series later, Darrieus Ramsey intercepted Edwards and returned it to App State’s 46, and the Dukes converted their crucial fourth down before Holloman put them ahead to stay.