With a no. 5 national ranking and a top-rated defense, the College of William and Mary was determined to end its five-game losing streak to its chief rivals, James Madison.
A sellout crowd on Homecoming at Zable Stadium was ready as well.
And after a quiet first half, the Tribe quickly raced out to a commanding three-possession lead, defeating JMU 24-3 to move their record to 6-1 and 3-1 in the CAA.
It was the College’s first win over the Dukes (2-5, 0-4 CAA) since a 2004 victory in Harrisonburg.
“I thought we played very hard today,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “I think were a little rusty coming out of the [bye week] offensively, but defensively, we were right on all day.”
The Tribe offense may have needed a few quarters to shake off that rust, but thanks to impressive performances from senior quarterback R.J. Archer and sophomore tailback Jonathan Grimes, it didn’t matter.
Grimes had an excellent day on the ground, rushing for a career high 158 yards, while junior Courtland Marriner also pitched in with another 62.
Archer had a steady, but unspectacular day through the air, passing for 127 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. The quarterback helped build some offensive momentum with several key runs at the end of the first half.
“The scambles that [Archer] made at the end of the first half that got us in field goal position were big-time plays,” Laycock said. “He can move around and do a lot of things. He’s a very gifted quarterback.”
Defensively, the College shut down an imposing JMU rushing attack. Traditionally, the Dukes have beaten the College with their ground game. JMU gained over 300 yards on the ground in their last two meetings with the Tribe, but on Saturday, the College defense held the Dukes to just 150 rushing yards. The Tribe also held an anemic JMU passing game to just 66 yards through the air.
Senior defensive end Adrian Tracy wreaked havoc all day, supplying 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. Tracy has been spectacular in CAA play, as he now leads the conference with seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss in the past four games.
“One of the keys going into this game was to not just stop, but eliminate the running game and make them one-dimensional,” Tracy said. “We thought we would have a pretty good chance to win if we could stop the run, and we did.”
The game began uneventfully, as the teams traded three-and-outs before a fluke interception by Archer.
With 4:41 remaining in the opening quarter, the Tribe offense showed its first signs of life. After receiving the ball at their own 31, Grimes blew through the JMU defense for a 61-yard gain. The rush play was the longest allowed by the JMU defense this season, and a season long for Grimes.
After an incomplete pass, Archer then rolled to the right, and completed a beautiful play action pass to senior tight end Rob Varno to give the Tribe the 7-0 lead.
Aside from a late fumble, the College benefited from strong play from its tight ends, Varno and freshman Alex Gottlieb, both of whom caught touchdown passes.
Throughout the rest of the first half, the Dukes kept the game close. After showing an impressive rushing attack of its own, JMU capped a methodical drive with a Dixion Wright field goal. But the score would provide James Madison with its only points of the game.
The College closed out the half by marching right back down then field. Senior kicker Brian Pate drilled a 34-yard field goal as time expired to give the College a 10-3 advantage going into the half.
After the break, the Tribe handed the ball over to Grimes and Marriner, and began to pull away. The College scored two touchdowns in the second half, the first coming on a 18-yard completion from Archer to Gottlieb. Grimes then sealed the win with a 9-yard scamper with 5:45 remaining in the game.
The win proved was particularly meaningful for the Tribe seniors, who had never beaten JMU.
“It was definitely a sweet one. Its one of the best rivalries we have here, and it’s a team we have struggled with the past few years,” Archer said. “We just played our game, controlled the game up front, and that’s what it came down to.”