This time, JMU's Hail Mary pass fails at the end of VU's 14-7 win
By David Coulson
Executive Editor/Managing Partner
College Sporting News
VILLANOVA, Pa. — You have to wonder sometimes, who approves the scripts for these Football Championship Subdivision games each weekend?
Anyone who had watched the memorable Colonial Athletic Association game between Villanova and James Madison two years ago at Villanova Stadium knew what was going to happen in the final minute and a half of Saturday's contest.
You couldn't help but think you had seen this movie before.
When Villanova quarterback Chris Whitney fumbled the ball away on fourth and inches from the JMU two as the No. 6 Wildcats attempted to clinch a 14-7 victory, everyone in the homecoming crowd of 9,217 knew this game was going to finish with a Hail Mary pass.
Top-ranked nationally and undefeated at the time, James Madison had stolen a 23-19 victory over the Wildcats on a wild, rain-drenched evening at VU when Rodney Landers had tossed a Hail Mary pass to Bosco Williams for a touchdown on the final play of the game.
Villanova linebacker Osaya Osunde had attempted to knock the pass down, as he was taught in practice, but the overthrown aerial had bounced off a teammate's helmet and settled in the hands of Williams in the end zone as he trailed the play.
That loss cost Villanova a share of the CAA crown in 2008 and forced the Wildcats on the road for a quarterfinal-round game at JMU, which VU dropped 31-27, again in heartbreaking fashion.
Those two defeats sets the tone for the off-season work that fueled the Wildcats on their way to the 2009 national title. This time, you had two teams trying to keep their hopes for a playoff berth alive.
Villanova built a 14-0 lead in the second quarter Saturday on a picture-perfect day, with Whitney (13-of-19, 213 yards passing) hitting Norman White in the back of the end zone for a seven-yard scoring strike and finding Mikey Reynolds down a seam for 54 yards and another touchdown.
After the No. 11-ranked Dukes cut that lead to a touchdown with a nine-play, 73-yard to open the second half on Kavon Seaton's two-yard scoring burst, Villanova dominated the rest of the game with its dominating offensive line and high-octane running attack.
But the Wildcats — playing again without their playoff MVP from a year ago, all-purpose performer Matt Szczur (high ankle sprain) — couldn't manage a touchdown, or field goal that would have put the contest away against the offensively-challenged Dukes.
Villanova kicker Nick Yako, who had narrowly missed on a 43-yard field goal into a tricky crosswind in the first quarter, failed again on a 23-yard chip shot with 7:50 remaining in the fourth period.
Yako's second miss and Whitney's fumble left James Madison with a faint pulse, while the crowd, coaches and players relived the finish from two years ago.
We pushed the ball up field, we should have scored more points," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "We kept a pretty good football team in the game because of the way we executed some things."
JMU quarterback Drew Dudzik (22-of-32, 213 yards passing) had that game on his mind as he started the final drive from his own six.
"Of course, I remembered that game and that play," Dudzik said, "and I wanted to create that same kind of excitement."
Dudzik completed 7-of-9 passes on that march to move the ball to the Nova 36 with two seconds remaining. The ball rested on the same hash mark, just one yard away from the spot where Landers had started that final play two years ago.
The JMU quarterback avoided a Villanova blitz from the left side and lofted his pass deep into the right corner of the end zone.
But this time, Wildcat cornerback James Pitts didn't take any chances on knocking the ball down. Instead Pitts intercepted the ball and hung on for dear life as several Dukes converged on him and attempted unsuccessfully to strip the pigskin away.
"It was a bit of Deja Vu there for sure," said Talley. "Only this time there were no Hail Mary's, only Our Father's."
With the win, Villanova improved to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the tough CAA, while JMU fell to 4-3 and 3-1. The Dukes, who like Villanova have been hurt by injuries this year, have been a .500 team since their remarkable 21-16 win over Virginia Tech to start the season.
"Our kids gave a gallant effort against a very good team," said JMU coach Mickey Matthews. "I thought it was the best effort we've had all year."
Talley was just glad to escape with a victory.
"We're always happy to win," said Talley. "It was a bit of an ugly win, for sure."