This is the game story from JMU’s second game of the 2013 season, a 35-33 loss at Akron. The story ran Sept. 9, 2013.
AKRON, Ohio — On the second-to-last page of the post-game stats booklet is the final play of Saturday’s football matchup between James Madison and Akron. In the booklet, it is described as JMU quarterback Michael Birdsong completing a 9-yard pass to Arlandis Harvey with zero seconds left on the clock.
The Dukes — who lost the game 35-33 — disagree very strongly. They say there was still time.
“You stop the clock at the end of the game,” JMU coach Mickey Matthews, still fuming, said outside the Dukes’ locker room. “That’s what I was mad about. His forward progress was stopped with about nine seconds left.”
But the clock didn’t stop. Harvey went over the middle and caught a pass that was close to being a first down at the Akron 27-yard line. The senior made the catch with roughly 10 seconds left in the game, but the referees never got the ball set — the Akron players also were in no rush to line up — and the game clock expired, perhaps costing the Division I-AA Dukes (1-1) what could have been their fifth-ever win over a I-A opponent and first since 2010 when they beat Virginia Tech.
All-time, JMU is 4-18 against I-A opponents.
“I thought the whole thing was pretty bad,” said Birdsong, who completed 29 of 42 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. “… They had [Harvey] stood up for a couple seconds, and [the referees] took their sweet time. But, I mean, that’s our fault. We’re in Akron. We’re not going to expect the refs to help us out.
“This is the way it goes. [I-A] teams are supposed to beat [I-AA] teams. We should have come here with that mindset. The refs weren’t going to be on our side. We should have known that from the get-go.”
JMU had no timeouts left for its final drive, which began with 1:19 left in the game. The Dukes also didn’t help themselves when tailback Dae’Quan Scott got a dead-ball 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after picking up a first down on a 4-yard carry. Instead of first down at the JMU 31, it was first down at the JMU 16.
It was one of nine JMU penalties, which totaled 72 yards. Another penalty — defensive end Sage Harold jumped offsides midway through the second quarter — negated what would have been a fumble recovery for the Dukes, who started hot and led 13-0 with seven minutes left in the first quarter.
“We got another team [Saint Francis] next week and practice this week — just fix everything,” said Scott, who had 126 all-purpose yards (107 rushing on 27 carries) and two touchdowns. “I know I had a late penalty at the end of the game when they were actually choking me. But, I mean, it’s no excuse.”
The Dukes recovered from Scott’s penalty and drove eight plays to the Akron 36 to set up Harvey’s catch that could have been a first down. If it was a first down, it would have stopped the clock and given the Dukes time to set up kicker Cameron Starke for a 44-yard-ish field goal to win it. But the ball was never set, so the spot could not be reviewed. Earlier in the game, the Zips (1-1) had a spot overturned that gave them a first down.
The end of the game sent Matthews into a rage. The 15th-year coach chased the referees for almost half the field at a sparsely filled InfoCision Stadium (the official attendance was 19,653).
“Akron did a great job. They were in no hurry to get lined up for that last play,” Matthews said. “That’s why I was so upset with the officials. They kind of stood there and let the clock run out. That being said, we didn’t get a chance to kick the field goal because Dae’Quan got that unsportsmanlike conduct [penalty], which I’m sure was a good call. I didn’t see it, but I’m sure it was a good call by the official.”
It was a game JMU easily could have won. The Dukes started strong, holding Akron — which was just 3-34 with one win over a I-A program since 2010 — to 10 yards of offense on five plays in the first quarter.
“When you’ve been through what these young men have been through, wins like these are big wins. They [JMU] came in and felt like they could beat us,’’ Akron coach Terry Bowden said, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
For the game, Madison ran 94 plays and had 498 yards of offense. The Zips ran 57 plays and had 356 yards — 121 on two plays in the second half: a 68-yard touchdown pass and a 55-yard run that led to a 3-yard touchdown pass, which put Akron ahead 28-24 with 2:47 left in the third quarter. That score gave the Zips the advantage for good after five lead changes.
JMU also gave up a 43-yard pass in the second quarter, meaning 46.6 percent of Akron’s total yardage came on three plays.
“Defensively, we never should have let the game get out of hand and let them score that many points,” JMU linebacker Stephon Robertson said. “But besides that, as mad as we are about it, we can only be mad at ourselves at the end of the day, so it is what it is.”