National Championship Edition: Good, Bad, Ugly (Hint, LOTS of good)
It’s a bit overwhelming to even think about where to begin to breakdown the blur of bliss that was this entire trip. So we’re gonna do a little something different this week and have a second, extended edition of “The Good” at the end of this piece. There’s just so much personal love we want express and we realize it may not mean a ton to most of our readership (and it’s only tangentially football-related), but after working on this little labor-of-love dorkfest for eight years we can’t let this opportunity go by without spreading the love in true JMU style!
Your James Madison Dukes are National Champions! – It wasn’t miraculous or unexpected or kind of out of nowhere like 2004, but it was a fitting coronation for all the building and growth that has taken place at JMU since that night in Chattanooga a dozen years ago. The most incredible part is JMU has become a “football school” without losing it’s soul. It didn’t play in some far-flung, academically laughable league that took them to some crummy bowl game, it didn’t raise football up at the expense of Softball or Women’s Hoops or Field Hockey, and best of all it learned from its own mistakes (bids on home games, allegedly turning down CUSA, the hiring of Keener/Dillard, reconnecting with athlete alums, building AlphaDogs to do things like hire great coaches and have fancy unis) while still building. Basically, that feeling anyone ever connected to James Madison University – that indescribable pride and inexplicable-to-outsiders love – stayed intact while the Dukes truly built the brand and fleshed out the infrastructure. Exactly the way we’d all expect from JMU folks!
The Fans – What can you say about JMU Nation? They rolled deep as expected. They’ve become an unwieldy, giddy, plugged-in, work-hard/play-hard group that’s pretty much a direct reflection of the JMU we all know and love. That was an epic performance folks. The parking-lot destroying, streamer-carnage creating, and beer-draining ridiculousness was everything we thought it would be. And even if there’s a little hyperbolic rumor in the “sold the stadium out of beer” and “craziest crowd Toyota Stadium has ever had” quotes, there’s no doubt that it for the earliest game we’ve ever attended, our folks were revved up and ready to enjoy the moment!
The DEFENSE – Make no mistake, while Special Teams may have made the game’s biggest play with the Wellons punt block at the outset, and while the offense has all the big names, the defense was unquestionably the unit that made this game a long coast to the trophy. They were so good in all aspects that you can’t even single out a player or unit that made the difference. Martez Stone, Darrious Carter, and Simeyon Robinson (how great is he when healthy?) dominated the line of scrimmage. Gage Steele did Gage Steele things. Kyre Hawkins played lights out after JMU lost Dimitri Holloway early. And the entire secondary gave YSU zero chance of completing anything but short passes all day. And by the way, guess who’s fully back? Jimmy ‘effin Moreland that’s who. Moreland and Robinson and Jordan Brown and Raven Green will all get a chance to lead the D next year too!
Khalid Abdullah – No real surprise that the nation’s best player (regardless of what various polling sources say) did his thing. 101 yards even against a very strong YSU D. Set JMU’s all-time yardage and all-time points mark in the process. Nothing else to say really. Pretty sure it was extra “dusty” in my little part of the field when he went up for the MOP presentation. Good luck at the combine Khalid!
Kloosterman – If you were really plugged in last year, you know the then-skinny kid behind JMU all-timer Dean Cheatham was good. He seemed to make tough catches with soft hands (like the first TD) and always be in the right place (like that fantastic peel-back effort on the Schor scramble in the 2nd). But even the most optimistic of us I’m guessing didn’t have the sky-high expectations we do for the young man after this season and as he gets ready to lead the offense next year in his senior season!
Tyree Chavious – Told you he’d be fine, and he’ll only get better. YSU’s set of DE’s are NFL-caliber players, probably the best the Dukes have seen all year outside of the kid from Nova, but Chavious held up well after many fans complained about his struggles with nerves in Fargo. There was no shame in the way he and Aaron Stinnie held up against Rivers and Moss this week even though JMU didn’t have to throw all that much after building the early lead. The experience he and Mack Patrick gained this postseason will also be invaluable in replacing 2 of the 3 OLinemen the Dukes lose this year.
National FCS Reporters’ comments after the game – I had the real pleasure of spending ten minutes on the field with after the celebration with one of the very few reporters who is truly dedicated to FCS on the national level. You can probably guess who it was but I’m not sure he’d want his comments on the record. But he made two big points worth sharing. First, he was pleasantly stunned by JMU’s fans. Just so excited about the numbers, the passion, and the connectedness. He mentioned how nuts it would be if JMU ever played NDSU in the title game. But even better for a proud alum, he noted how impressive JMU’s student-athletes are as a group. Without specifically calling out other programs, it was cool to hear from someone who would know that for all of our administration jokes, JMU is delivering on its promise to be a model for a well-rounded collegiate athletics’ experience by recruiting and developing players that are the kind of Dukes we can all be proud of. And yes, those squeaky wheels in the Faculty Senate can zip it!
Youngstown Fans – Yes, some old dudes in slacks peed on and broke a bottle on our friends’ car. And yes, some drunken jerks told our big-boned friend to “eat a salad” in the stands. But every fanbase has a few of those, and I’m absolutely certain that includes a few Dukes. But on the whole, this group of midwesterners couldn’t have been nicer. Hyper local, proud of their team, eager to talk about an oft-overlooked area of the country, and equally excited to talk about JMU, our crazy fans, and best of all for us, the actual game and our actual team. Even if a few folks were a bit overwhelmed by the youth, the passion, and the diversity amongst the Dukes, we would love to see this group again someday at Bridgeforth.
Frisco/Plano, Texas and the DFW Dukes – So we’ll be covering Toyota Stadium and the NCAA in a different part of this post, but the community itself could not have been more excited about, and welcoming to, a group of folks in town for a game much of the country wouldn’t know existed. Their passion for football down there was evident and many bars and restaurants were not only welcoming, but truly catering to, both fanbases. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that JMU was a tailor-made, if slightly more rambunctious and a whole lot younger and more diverse, replacement for the Bison hordes they’d gotten used to the last five years. And of course the DFW Duke Club, who just like last year at SMU, were well-prepared with events and information beyond all expectations! Thanks guys and see you at MAC again next year!
The lack of rhythm in the game – We underestimated the tv timeout factor for sure. But we also underestimated how this game would go once JMU got up 21-0. We’ll never ever complain about JMU winning a title game, but let’s be honest, this was a boring-ass game for any neutral observer.
Going back to real life – Ugh. But sure is a lot easier with this weekend in the memory bank.
Bo Pellini losing his mind – Hard to imagine that if this had been any other non-famous FCS coach they wouldn’t have gotten a penalty for being on the field and in the refs face constantly the way this assclown was.
Toyota Stadium and the NCAA – I’m sorry, but as great as Frisco was as a host community, and as conveniently set up as the tailgate lots are, this place is trash. The security delays getting in were completely caused by their own unpreparedness and disorganization. You can’t hear the bands at all under that carport they have in one end zone. The concessionaires were totally unprepared to move quickly (and hey, how about “beer only” and “food only” lines so both families and lushes can calm down a bit?). And worst of all, to both the stadium and the NCAA, how you allow a venue that is in total disarray and obviously under major construction to hold the event is beyond all reason. That literal dirt and those two goofy construction workers watching the game and catching extra points looked like shit and screamed “small time” and “we don’t care.” We know you don’t actually care at all about FCS, but there’s just no excuse. Winning bid or not, if the stadium isn’t ready, the game should’ve been held somewhere else, even if only for this year. As great as this run was, and as unsure as we remain about non-AAC G5 conferences, that bullshit is why we remain skeptical of JMU’s place in FCS.
Tyler Gray – Just kidding Tyler’s mom, but we know you’re reading. We’ve always believed in Tyler, and after making arguably the biggest play of the season up in North Dakota (and with the assistance of the odd, but tightly-knit fraternity of JMU kickers) we’re darn sure he’s set up to be a true team leader the next couple of years!
The Good (Personal Addendum)
First, to everyone who came by this weekend to say hi at Gingerman or at the tailgate, thank you! We were both thrilled to meet many of you (Chase, Jason K., CKiddy, etc.)! Our apologies that it turned into a bit of a meathead-fest thanks to some of old friends (ok, thanks to us too) by 9:30ish.
Partlow, Price, Dric, Priz, Evangelista, Markowitz – Our “staff” – The best!
The entire “Fight for Glory!” group – names omitted to protect the innocent and/or connected but love you guys even if we’re all nuts.
Finally, we planned to list all the folks we wish to thank and send love to for the incredible experience we’ve had as JMU fans since we started this project eight years ago (and we’re sorry in advance for anyone we forget). Some of you are old friends we’ve reconnected with, some of you are people we never would’ve met but for this site, some of you are even JMU employees, but all of you enrich our lives and our JMU experience immensely. Our closest friends and family may make fun of us for having friends 15 years younger and 20 years older because of this, but you truly have become friends and we love you all! Alas, there’s simply no way to write a list this long, at least not without inevitably forgetting someone. So just know so many of you have made this whole thing worthwhile. Now let’s run this back next year!