The Villanova Wildcats went into Bridgeforth Stadium needing a victory, but fell short of the mark in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated. John Robertson, who had been hot for weeks, was finally slowed down by a tough Dukes' defense led by All-American linebacker Stephon Robertson. Robertson finished the day with a frustrating line of 20-37 for 219 yards (2 TD, 1 INT) and 17 carries for just 44 yards. He was also sacked 7 times on the day.
The game got off to a slow start, with both offenses sputtering to early three and outs. The Dukes struck first on their second drive of the game, with Michael Birdsong and Dae'Quan Scott doing most of the damage by nickel and diming their way down the field.
Head coach Mickey Matthews called for the trick play, with wide receiver Quintin Hunter taking a lateral and finding Birdsong on the throwback, and Birdsong rumbled to the 2-yard line. He couldn't keep his cool though, jawing with Craig James and earning himself an unsportsmanlike penalty. It wouldn't matter though as freshman Khalid Abdullah punched it in from 6 yards out. Abdullah would finish with 50 yards on 10 carries.
Villanova responded quickly, with Poppy Livers taking the ensuing kickoff back 45 yards to set up John Robertson and the offense in great field position. It didn't take long, as after a couple of quick runs Robertson hit Kevin Gulyas on a beautiful 18-yard strike to level the score at 7-7.
The game threatened to reach a frantic pace as Birdsong found Anthony Rose on a 50-yard pass to set up the Dukes deep in 'Nova territory again. Two plays later, Dae'Quan Scott wove his way through traffic for an 11-yard touchdown run, putting the Dukes back on top 14-7.
The defenses began to assert themselves there as Stephon Robertson's dedicated spy job on John Robertson limited the Villanova offense, while Michael Birdsong found it increasingly difficult to move the ball through the air against the Wildcats' defense.
Andy Talley went back to Kevin Monangai, and he and Robertson methodically led the Wildcats down the field late in the first half. Talley then went back to his old friend the trick play to get back on level terms. A sweep to Gary Underwood turned into a halfback pass, and Underwood found Kevin Gulyas in the corner of the end zone, with Gulyas executing a nice toe-tap to finish the play.
James Madison would respond with a 30-yard field goal to make it a 17-14 halftime lead.
The second half began just as slow as the first, with both offenses executing quick three and outs. Birdsong struck first, calmly leading his team down the field with some good passing, aided by some poor tackling by the Villanova defense. Backed up by a chop blocking penalty and facing a 3rd and 18 from the Villanova 34, Birdsong found Daniel Brown on a beautiful throw to stake the Dukes to a 24-14 lead late in the third quarter. Birdsong finished an impressive day 20-29 for 207 yards and the one touchdown.
With their backs against the wall, and John Robertson's run-game negated by the Dukes, Kevin Monangai began to assert himself with three straight plays that put Villanova into field goal territory. Mark Hamilton, perfect on the year to this point, lined up for a 46-yard attempt, his longest of the year. The kick had the distance required, but not the accuracy as he pulled his effort wide left.
The 'Nova defense responded on subsequent drives, giving Robertson more opportunities to score, but with time winding down offensive coordinator was forced to call more passing plays than he probably would have liked, to little effect.
Robertson, who had been limited to 25 yards rushing, finally broke one for 31 yards to the JMU 35. A couple of plays later though, Robertson threw an ill-advised pass across his body that was intercepted by converted wide receiver DeAndre' Smith and returned 86 yards for the touchdown to cement the game for James Madison with just 5:50 left on the clock.
John Robertson added a late 14-yard touchdown pass to Earnest Pettway, but it was too little too late for Villanova as they slumped to 4-5 on the season, and almost certainly eliminated themselves from playoff consideration.
Villanova travels to Rhode Island next Saturday for a 12:30 pm ET kickoff, as they try to snap a three game losing streak.