May 9 / Rob

Dukes Drop Heartbreaker to Sam Houston State

There’s no easy way to start this, so let’s just rip the band aid off and go. JMU blew a 21 point second half lead and fell to Sam Houston State by the score of 38-35. It’s a loss that sent many fans over the edge. It’s unclear if or when they’ll return to sanity. There’s no sugarcoating it. It was a devastating loss. There’s no good way to spin blowing a three touchdown lead. There’s no rationalizing it away. It was ugly and it’s going to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths for a long while.

While it was definitely brutal, one loss does not define a program. One loss, even one featuring a catastrophic collapse, does not invalidate everything JMU accomplished in this pandemic season. One loss, does not mean the program has plunged from previous highs and charted a course for mediocrity. It probably just means that they got beat. It happens. We don’t like it when it does, but it’s not the end of JMU football as an FCS power.

There is much to like about the JMU fanbase. But there has been a discouraging trend toward more and more JMU fans being pathologically opposed to giving opponents any credit whatsoever. Every loss is due solely to JMU’s failures. Plays fail not because the other team does something well, but because the Dukes’ coaches are clueless. In too many fans eyes, the Dukes win because the competition isn’t good enough, and lose because they beat themselves. Things aren’t always so black and white. Sometimes there are shades of grey.

In the loss to Sam Houston State, JMU jumped out to a big halftime lead. The Dukes looked like they were Frisco bound. They were sitting on a comfortable 27-10 lead late in the third quarter. Then bad stuff happened. Lots of very bad stuff. It was the single most frustrating stretch of football that I can remember watching. Jequez Ezzard put the JMU secondary on skates, as he scampered for a 69 yard TD. Not even two minutes later, he took a punt back to the house. The ensuing kickoff got caught up in the wind, landed in between the returners and the up men, and then bounced straight up in the air and Sam Houston recovered. The Bearkats promptly punched it in for six. But they weren’t done. On JMU’s next possession, a pass bounced off the receivers hands and right into the arms of the Sam Houston defender. They punched that one in for six as well. In approximately five minutes of game time, Sam Houston had turned a 27-10 deficit into a 38-27 lead. JMU punched back and scored another TD, but then missed a desperation FG into the wind and Sam Houston held on. Oh, and Cole Johnson got hurt on the last drive, forcing a cold Gage Moloney to come in to try to finish a potentially game winning drive.

Mistakes were made people. We’re not denying that. The special teams were not very special. The coaches wasted timeouts. Defenders missed tackles and committed terrible penalties. JMU battled back instead of laying down though and could have won it. But they didn’t. They lost. They lost in excruciating fashion. However, as bad as it was, the overreaction by much of the JMU fanbase might have been even worse.

JMU is a program that expects to compete for championships. The Dukes fell short this year. Not that short, but short. And apparently losing on the road in the semi-finals is a fireable offense to a lot of fans. Fortunately, the JMU athletic department is not run by a bunch of drunken troglodytes with Twitter muscles, so Coach Cignetti will be back in the Fall. As he should be. He didn’t have a perfect game. He’ll take some deserved criticism for the collapse. He needs to overhaul special teams. But he also deserves a hell of a lot of credit for the job he did this season.

JMU lost a lot of talent due to injuries, transfers, and graduations. Cignetti still managed to lead a starting lineup filled with backups all the way to the semi-finals. He coached up a QB who was so shaky he probably would have lost his starting job forever if not for Covid, and helped him play the best football of his life in the playoffs. He successfully lead his team through multiple cancellations and pauses during a global pandemic. But he’s too conservative offensively, so let’s fire him. Never mind that his “conservative” approach helped JMU out-gain Sam Houston 430 yards to 332 yards while averaging over 16 yards a completion. And he inherited a machine that could coach itself, so let’s fire him. Nevermind that the “machine” he inherited was coming off a season where it followed two losses (including one to his Elon team) in CAA play by bowing out to Colgate in the second round of the playoffs. Cignetti has flaws. So did Mike Houston, Everett Withers, Mickey Matthews and every other coach ever. Like a lot of other successful coaches though, Cignetti happens to have a great many strengths as well.

JMU let one get away yesterday. There’s no denying it. And it hurts. Badly. But let’s take a deep breath. There is a lot to be happy about with the season JMU just had. There were struggles early, but the players responded. Young guys and backups worked through some challenging circumstances and improved. That’s typically a sign of good coaching. So we can look at everything that went wrong yesterday and ignore the good that came before it, and conclude the program is a dumpster fire. Or we can look at the total body of work, be mad/frustrated/despondent about yesterday, and still be excited about the state of the program heading into the Fall.


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  1. The Fly / May 10 2021

    Nothing but amens. I had to shut off social media after the third quarter. Thank you for using this platform to tell the truth.

  2. Chris / May 10 2021

    You nailed it as usual.

  3. Alease / May 10 2021

    Perfectly said. Thank you. GODukes!!

  4. ShadyP / May 10 2021

    Amen and well put, sane outlook.

    The vocal, minority on social media were quite frankly embarrassing themselves and showed a lack of class and maturity……whether it was fanatics who never played a down of football or ex-players from the 90’s.

  5. CJ / May 10 2021

    In Cignetti’s defense, JMU has only lost three games under his tutelage. None of those losses were situations where we got our a**** thoroughly kicked; we were in positions to win each of those three games.

    This loss to SH stings the most because it was less about SH beating us and more of us giving the game away. And I say that with all due respect to SH…they never quit, made some big plays, and found a way to win. Overall, man-for-man, I think we were the better team. SH got some lucky breaks that made the difference. But that’s sports. And we’ve been on the lucky end of breaks plenty of times, too.

    It’s hard to narrow down blame on one person. Obviously, major breakdowns on special teams throughout the game. Take back one of those mistakes and it could have been the difference between a win and a loss.

    Cole missed a few open receivers (our guys were burning their secondary all game), but he also made some great plays and showed a lot of heart. He’s a squared away kid and he’s going to succeed in whatever path he chooses in life, he’s the kind of alum who will represent the University well.

    My humble two-cents on the coaching is that even when you’re up by three scores in the third quarter, you can’t put things on cruise control and ride out the game — you have to keep playing to win. I know this is nit-picky, and a lot of that third quarter was going very well before the wheels came off, but it just seemed like we got a little too relaxed and lackadaisical. You can’t get careless against a team like SH. Anyway, I’ve got 20-20 hindsight but it’s just my observation.

    Overall, however, it was a good season. I think South Dakota State is giving SH a huge THANK YOU because JMU would have beaten them in Frisco.

    And if anyone is still reading this, my final point is let’s stay in the FCS!

  6. Mike in Ohio / May 10 2021

    I read your blog post for a second time and liked it better than I did the first time reading it…one of the advantages/disadvantages of now being retired. My first time reading it I negatively reacted to your criticism of fans being overly critical of the loss and how it came about. I don’t see things on social media sites so I don’t know what people were writing, but if people weren’t invested in the program we could just be like William and Mary where the football team is thought of on the same plane as the sailing club or we could be Richmond where the only people who care about their team are the very old alumni who were there when it was still a Baptist run school, not the woke train wreck it is now. So having people make maybe overly critical comments of the coach(s) or of the team, to me, just shows that people are paying attention and care a little. I am not sure if the blog was around when Mickey Matthews made that bad decision to go for it in the Appalachian St. playoff game and all of the complaining that generated for about a year after that game ended but it was probably not much different from what is going on now, and complaining, in not too an over the top way, about coaches when they lose is just kind of part of being fans.

    I am not a big fan of Cignetti as he is just too old school for me and his monsyllabic answers to questions and grunts to questions about his strategy make Mickey Matthews look erudite but would never think he should be fired over a couple of games where his coaching decisions appeared questionable. And maybe his players think he is terrific and they ARE winning and competing for championships so it’s hard to make any real case against him. If we were firing coaches left and right then the program becomes unstable and what good coach would ever want to come here when we do come to a point of looking for a new one? So I look forward to seeing what the team can do in a “real” season starting in September and will be there a few times during the season to watch. As always, thanks for your work on the blog and podcasts and enjoyed meeting both of you several years ago at one of the tailgates on the Godwin Hall field. Just disagree with you a little on the aftermath of this specific game.

  7. JMU2002DUKE / May 12 2021

    That one was a heartbreaker for sure. I dig the after action on it here though, thanks. With the fall season right around the corner, who are the big names that won’t be back? I’m just curious what players have put on the purple and gold for the last time. Go Dukes.

  8. Rob K / May 14 2021

    Looks like Johnson hurt his thumb such that it may need surgery. It would have been tough to go to Frisco putting in the backup with only one week prep. It was a great season. If you told me after the Elon game that we made it to the semi-finals, I would have said that this was an amazing recovery to a shaky start to a season. We have to keep that perspective. I’m also seeing way too much negativity in the community. We have a great program and everybody needs to take a step back to appreciate it.

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