All it took was three plays.
And when the sequence finally ended, so too did the hopes of their rival.
“Led to points, led to a lead,” first-year James Madison coach Curt Cignetti said.
The game wasn’t even 10 minutes old, but No. 2 James Madison was on its way to a 48-6 punishing of instate foe Richmond along with its third outright Colonial Athletic Association title in four years and at least a share of the league championship for the fourth time in five years on Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg.
It’s the fourth outright CAA crown in JMU history.
Cignetti was still drying off from his Gatorade bath when he arrived at the post-game press conference with his players, who were eager they had captured the league crown all for themselves again.
“We were actually talking about that,” JMU senior cornerback Rashad Robinson said. “There’s not too many people out there that can say they have four conference titles in five years throughout their career and it goes to what coach said about our leadership on this team and the senior class.”
In the opening quarter the Spiders appeared destined for an initial edge, but Dukes cornerback Wesley McCormick had other ideas.
McCormick halted a Richmond drive that trekked 87 yards when he jarred the ball free from opposing receiver Charlie Fessler as Fessler tried to get past the goal line.
“I saw [Fessler] have that second effort toward the end zone,” Robinson said. “And Wes came in and punched it out.”
Robinson was nearby, but senior safety Adam Smith scooped the ball up and settled for a touchback.
Then, JMU (10-1, 7-0 CAA) had the not-so-obvious chance to take its first shot to take out Richmond (5-6, 4-3 CAA), according to Cignetti.
“[Offensive coordinator] Shane Montgomery dialed it up,” Cignetti said. “And I said, ‘You know we’re against the wind here?’ … But it was a good way to jump on ‘em.”
Quarterback Ben DiNucci took the immediate snap, faked a handoff and fired deep to find wide receiver Brandon Polk for an 80-yard score and the first lead of the game. The pair has connected eight times for touchdowns this season.
DiNucci completed 84 percent of his throws on Saturday to finish with 179 yards and three touchdowns while Polk had 104 receiving yards, eclipsing the 100-yard mark for the fourth time this fall and the third time in three games.
“I get the play when we get on the field,” DiNucci said. “So I was pleased to hear that because it seems like every week we’re hitting on one of these to [Polk]. It’s not hard to miss him. He’s fast, so it’s always fun when you can have a one-play, 80-yard drive and have it go for seven points.”
The ensuing kickoff didn’t allow Richmond to reset either.
JMU senior Bryce Maginley, a career special-teams savant, forced Spiders return man Keyston Fuller to fumble and Dukes kicker Camden Wise corralled the ball. The Dukes managed to get a field goal out of that Richmond miscue and set the trend for converting turnovers into points.
“That was pretty early,” Richmond coach Russ Huesman said. “But it’s big. You have a chance for seven and we don’t get it, fumble the kickoff and hold ‘em to three there, but it’s a 10-point swing.
“And when you’re playing a team like James Madison, they’re tremendous. It’s a great football team, they’re well coached and they’re really good, so if you make any mistakes, they’re going to make you pay for ‘em and that’s what happened today.”
In the game, JMU’s defense forced four turnovers – adding in linebacker Dimitri Holloway’s fumble recovery and spur Wayne Davis’ interception to fumble recoveries for Smith and Wise – and scored 17 points off those turnovers.
Holloway led all tacklers with 15 tackles and had half a sack and a tackle for loss as the Dukes held Richmond its lowest scoring output of the season. Robinson notched seven tackles and two tackles for loss.
DiNucci’s other two passes for touchdowns went to wide receiver Riley Stapleton before the signal-caller recorded a third-quarter rushing touchdown while barreling over Richmond cornerback Daniel Jones on his way into the end zone to push JMU’s advantage to 38-6.
“When the season starts, you kind of sit down and you’re like, ‘Here’s what we want to do,’” DiNucci said. “And I think being CAA champs is the first part of it.”
Richmond 0 6 0 0—6
James Madison 10 14 14 10—48
JMU—Polk 80 pass from DiNucci (Ratke kick), 7:37
JMU—Ratke 22 field goal, 4:09
JMU—Agyei-Obese 3 run (Ratke kick), 13:55
UR—Larson 40 field goal, 9:53
JMU—R. Stapleton 11 pass from DiNucci (Ratke kick), 4:08
UR—Larson 23 field goal, 0:00
JMU—R. Stapleton 3 pass from DiNucci (Ratke kick), 5:36
JMU—DiNucci 10 run (Ratke kick), 1:44
JMU—Ratke 28 field goal, 6:50
JMU—Kirlew 4 run (Ratke kick), 3:10
RUSHING—UR: Mancuso 18-60, Smith 7-14, Campbell 1-2, English 4-(-5), Fuller 1-(-10). JMU: Hamilton 10-80, Agyei-Obese 15-55, Kirlew 6-49, DiNucci 10-39, Vanhorse 5-17, Johnson 1-(-5).
PASSING—UR: Mancuso 18-30-1-204, English 0-1-0-0. JMU: DiNucci 11-13-0-179, Johnson 1-2-0-9.
RECEIVING—UR: Fessler 6-92, Brown 5-49, Fuller 3-64, Smith 3-3, Tsangeos 1-(-4). JMU: R. Stapleton 6-72, Polk 4-104, D. Stapleton 1-9, Brown 1-3.