It was a closely-contested game for the first three quarters, but if the Wildcats were able to hold on to their one-touchdown lead going into the fourth quarter, they could have stunned the crowded Bridgeforth Stadium and spoil James Madison’s homecoming.
Unfortunately for Villanova, everything went south in the final quarter of play, as James Madison capitalized on Wildcat mistakes and put up 21 unanswered points to take the lead and win 38-24.
Despite outgaining the Dukes, 431-374, the Wildcats had costly turnovers and missed opportunities in the fourth quarter that allowed James Madison to snatch the lead.
A T.D. Ayo-Durojaiye fumble was recovered by James Madison and set up the game-tying scoring drive. Three plays after scooping up the fumble, James Madison quarterback Ben DiNucci connected with Brandon Polk for a 26-yard touchdown play to tie the game at 24 with 13:53 remaining in the game.
It was the just the beginning of a snowball effect, as the Wildcats struggled to maintain possession.
On the following drive, the Wildcats managed to drive deep into Duke territory, until M.J. Hampton picked off a Daniel Smith pass and returned it 83 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The Wildcats never recovered from there, as a missed field goal opportunity eventually led to another James Madison touchdown, with Latrelle Palmer adding an insurance 69-yard touchdown run.
After that, Villanova’s two final drives of the game ended with interceptions.
It was a rough ending to the second half, one that contrasted with the Wildcats’ third quarter. Although they trailed 17-10 at halftime, ‘Nova came out of the break strong, with a pair of touchdown passes from Smith to take a 24-17 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Smith finished the day completing 26-of-47 pass attempts for 387 yards, three touchdown passes and three interceptions. Changa Hodge led the Wildcat receivers with eight catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Todd Summers also caught a touchdown pass, finishing with six receptions for 50 yards. Zac Kerxton had four catches for 95 yards, while Jaaron Hayek added 86 yards of production on five receptions.
James Madison maintained its reputation as a run-stopping team. With Justin Covington out with an ankle injury, the Dukes limited the running back rotation of Ayo-Durojaiye, DeeWil Barlee, and Rayjoun Pringle to just 47 rushing yards on a combined 20 carries.
For James Madison, DiNucci connected on 20-of-32 pass attempts for 216 yards and three touchdown passes. Riley Stapleton caught a pair of touchdown passes. Palmer finished with 103 yards on eight carries.
Villanova receives its first loss of the year, dropping to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in CAA play. James Madison improves to 6-1 overall and stays undefeated against conference opponents.
The Wildcats will take a bye week and resume action on Oct. 26, when they host Stony Brook for homecoming. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET.