Birdsong Leads Late Rally In 35-29 JMU Loss
RICHMOND — Michael Birdsong’s surprising rally fell just short.
Replacing benched starting quarterback Justin Thorpe, the true freshman got James Madison within a touchdown of an unlikely win before his last pass was batted down in the end zone as time expired, and Richmond upset the second-ranked Dukes, 35-29, on Saturday in front 8,700 fans at Robins Stadium.
Birdsong came in for Thorpe — a fifth-year junior who was awarded a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA this season — with 4:18 remaining in the third quarter, and he almost led the Dukes (5-2 overall, 3-1 in the CAA) to a win. He completed 11 of 22 passes for 159 yards and one touchdown. He also averaged 10.4 yards per rush, carrying it seven times for 73 yards and a touchdown, which he scored at the end of an 8-yard scramble by barreling through a defender to make it 35-29 with 35 seconds to play.
JMU then recovered an onside kick on its 48-yard line, and Birdsong drove the Dukes to the UR 31. But, after picking up a first down on a pass to Dae’Quan Scott — who made a great one-handed catch down the sideline — Birdsong threw four straight incomplete passes, including a final pass into a crowd in the end zone that was batted down to end the game.
Thorpe, who has led Madison in clutch drives the past two games, finished 8-of-13 for 142 yards with a touchdown, but he was intercepted twice — the second one came with 35 seconds left in the second quarter and led to a Richmond touchdown that made it 15-10, UR.
JMU coach Mickey Matthews said, “we’ll see” when asked about the quarterback situation. He said he pulled Thorpe in favor of Birdsong because he felt like they “needed a change.” Matthews called Birdsong — who had just one scholarship offer (JMU) coming out of Matoaca High School — a “shot in the arm.”
On the defense, the Dukes looked “atrocious,” Matthews described it. Madison gave up 441 yards — 303 yards through the air. JMU, thanks to its late drives, finished with 526 yards on 79 plays. The Spiders (5-3, 3-2) ran 76 plays.
The Dukes also had 11 penalties for 98 yards.