HARRISONBURG — Over the last decade, success in the rivalry has swung back and forth between James Madison and Richmond.
Neither the Dukes nor the Spiders have won more than two in a row against each other within the last 10 meetings. Those contests have been decided by an average of less than two touchdowns — 10.1 points per game — with seven of the 10 decisions having come by seven points or fewer.
“We definitely remember how games with Richmond have gone,” JMU senior quarterback Bryan Schor said. “They are always tight and always coming down to the last minute. They’re games that people remember and games that are a lot of fun to be in.”
Schor and company took last season’s showdown 47-43 at Robins Stadium in Richmond. The signal-caller capped the win, after a back-and-forth affair, when he found tight end Jonathan Kloosterman on a 9-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes to play.
Today, top-ranked JMU (9-0, 6-0 Colonial Athletic Association) and Richmond (5-4, 3-3 CAA) meet in the 35th edition of the rivalry as the in-state foes kick off at 3:30 p.m. inside Bridgeforth Stadium.
Richmond holds an 18-16 series lead.
The Spiders’ last win over JMU came two years ago as then-sophomore quarterback Kyle Lauletta threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns to help his team to the 59-49 triumph.
“It’s such a rich rivalry,” said Lauletta, now a fifth-year senior. “We’ve had so many close games in the past, and I don’t doubt no matter what [the] record is for either team, it’s going to be a hard-fought match.
“I’m just hoping that we play well and can put in a solid effort.”
The last time Richmond came to Harrisonburg, Dukes defensive coordinator Bob Trott held the same job on the Spiders side. Trott headlines a slew of coaches that have worked for both the large state school and small private university.
Trott was at Richmond from 2010 to 2015 before joining coach Mike Houston’s staff at JMU before last year.
“Both schools want to win this game,” Trott said. “There aren’t individual plays that stick out, but it’s the intensity and how hard the kids fight on both sides.
“It’s what college football is all about.”
JMU defensive line coach Jeff Hanson played at Richmond and had three different stints spanning 29 years as an assistant there. Dukes linebackers coach Byron Thweatt and inside receivers and tight ends coach Fontel Mines have worked at Richmond before, too.
Richmond offensive coordinator Jeff Durden spent nine seasons in the same position at JMU under ex-Dukes coach Mickey Matthews.
Other staff members such as JMU wide receivers coach Drew Dudzik and Richmond quarterbacks coach Aaron Corp played in rivalry within the last 10 years.
The players — Lauletta, Schor, Kloosterman, JMU senior safety Raven Greene, Richmond senior defensive end Andrew Clyde, just to name a few — set to take the field today are the same ones that have helped define the rivalry in recent seasons.
“It’s one of those rivalries,” Richmond coach Russ Huesman said. “I know it’s huge for our team and our fans and I know it’s huge for their team and their fans.
“What makes it great is the rivalry part of it, but I think what makes it greater is that the games have been competitive every year. No one wins big. Everyone wins or loses tight.”
The difference today could be JMU’s Trott-led defense.
The Dukes and Spiders have combined for 198 points in the last two contests with each other.
This year, though Richmond has the nation’s No. 1 passing offense and top passer with Lauletta, JMU boasts the FCS’s best scoring defense (9.2 points per game), total defense (218.2 yards per game), passing defense (130.3 yards per game) and red-zone defense (54.5 percent).
JMU has also forced more turnovers (26) than any other team in the country.
No opponent has scored more than 14 points in a game all season against the Dukes.
“They are as explosive as anybody we’ve faced all year and I say that including East Carolina,” Houston said. “We’re really going to be challenged defensively and I think we’re really going to find out just how good we are defensively if we can match up against them.”
A win for JMU would push its Division I-best winning streak to 22 straight victories while keeping a second consecutive outright CAA championship and the top seed for the FCS playoffs in line. An upset victory for Richmond keeps its hopes of an at-large playoff berth intact.