HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – Football is often a game of momentum. That’s especially true for an underdog team playing well at home, driving in its opponents’ territory, and seeking to increase a slim lead just before halftime, while bidding for an upset of a highly ranked conference rival.
The unranked Hofstra Pride could have lost their edge, and ultimately, their Colonial Athletic Association showdown with seventh-ranked James Madison, after bad weather caused 2,751 fans in attendance, and nearly everyone else, to scatter and find cover on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Shuart Stadium.
With the Pride nursing a 14-10 lead over the Dukes, and Hofstra set to run a 2nd-down-and-7 play from the JMU 38 yard-line with 1:23 left before halftime, both teams were suddenly forced off the field with the threat of lightning in the immediate area.
Advantage to the favored, top ten squad to regroup and take control of the game, as previously expected?
Instead, the Pride picked up where it left off after the 47-minute delay, and ran the final eight plays of a key 15-play, 66-yard scoring drive which took 4:28 of game time –- and nearly a full hour of actual time –- to complete. The weather-induced interruption was certainly worth the wait for Hofstra, which capped the drive on redshirt freshman tight end Dave Wilson’s second touchdown of the quarter, a back-of-the-end zone, four-yard grab from senior quarterback Cory Christopher, just five seconds before a shortened, five-minute halftime session.
JUM head coach Mickey Matthews said “I thought the big score at the end of the half, after the rain delay, that was certainly huge.”
Indeed, it was, as the play gave Hofstra 21-10 lead, and proved to be the decisive score in Hofstra’s 24-17 victory over James Madison (2-2, 0-1 CAA). And, it was a thrill for Wilson, who as the tallest player on the field at 6-foot-6, was playing in only his fourth career game, entering the day with just three catches for a total of fifteen yards, and no touchdowns in his young college career.
Despite his earlier lack of production and playing time, Wilson came up huge for the Pride (3-2, 1-1 CAA) in a game which saw very limited success for either team moving the ball through the air (JMU was held to just 56 passing yards for the game, and Hofstra was only modestly better, passing for 133 yards).
Wilson, who prior to coming to Hofstra, played in the same state (at Delaware Community College) where Hofstra head coach Dave Cohen gained his solid reputation as a defensive coach and coordinator (at the University Of Delaware), caught a game-high tying four passes, and led all receivers with 65 yards and two touchdowns.
Cohen praised Wilson’s deft running ability while noting that his tight end played a good game despite an injury that Wilson is still getting over. “Dave has not been at full strength for two weeks after spraining a joint in his shoulder… He can run as well as most of our receivers,” Cohen said. “It doesn’t take long to notice how well he covers ground.”
Used as a wide receiver rather than as a typical tight end on his first touchdown, Wilson burned the JMU defense, streaking up the right sideline on a 34-yard touchdown catch from sophomore quarterback Steve Probst, capping a quick three-play, 48-yard drive that took only 1:16, as Hofstra jumped to a 14-3 advantage with 10:34 remaining in the first half.
Probst and Christopher were continually shuffled on and off the field to give the JMU defense different looks. Cohen said the advantage of using the two players that way is that “There are things that Steven does a little bit better and there are things that Cory does a little bit better, and I think it gives people more things to defend.”
Each quarterback had one touchdown and no interceptions on the afternoon. Christopher started and passed for 57 yards, completing 9 of 16 passes, while Probst threw for 76 yards, connecting on 6 of 12 throws. The quarterback duo also provided nearly half of Hofstra’s rushing output, which produced 154 yards on 41 attempts. Junior fullback Everette Benjamin led Hofstra with 58 yards on the ground, carrying 12 times, and right behind him were Probst (9 carries for 43 yards) and Christopher (33 yards, also on 9 rushes).
Despite competing for playing time, Probst and Christopher support each other a great deal. After Probst’s touchdown throw, Probst and Christopher celebrated with a mid-air congratulatory bumping of shoulders by the Hofstra sideline. After the game, Christopher said of Probst and that play, “I’ve seen him grow up. I feel like I threw the touchdown. It’s like watching your little brother make a great play, You’re so happy, like you made the play.” Probst reciprocated, recognizing that he’s comfortable with how the tandem works and how he’s been helped by Christopher. “Cory’s on the field for seven plays,” Probst said. “And, then I’ll go in for one, or I’ll go in for a drive, and he’ll come out… I feel like I’ve progressed so much mentally, physically… Cory definitely helps me out a lot.”
The Dukes attempted the same success –- but achieved it to a far less degree — with their own tandem of junior quarterback Drew Dudzik, primarily a passer with limited mobility, and speedy freshman Justin Thorpe, who mostly looks to run from the quarterback position.
Dudzik rushed four times for eleven yards while completing 5 of 11 passes, for just 19 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Thorpe meanwhile, completed all of his passes, but threw only three, for 37 yards. He was the game’s leading rusher however, with 96 yards on 18 carries.
The Hofstra defense allowed just 192 total yards of offense, recording seven tackles for a loss, three by junior defensive end Deron Mayo for a total of 15 yards in losses. Mayo, who had a total of nine tackles, said “Our coaches did a great job preparing us for [JMU’s] different quarterbacks… everybody on our defense played as hard as they could,” also had an eight-yard sack. Sophomore safety Chris Edmond added a game-high 11 tackles for the Pride.
Senior linebacker Luke Bonus, who without an initial scholarship, paid his own way during his freshman year, also had nine tackles. Bonus has lived up to his surname as a nice surprise for the Pride during his career at Hofstra. He was jokingly commended by Cohen, who said of his 5-foot-10, 205-pound linebacker, “He looks like he’s probably a pretty good student and on a lot of intramurals teams.” Cohen then got serious, and continued, “If that’s not what you want your defense to stand for, I don’t know what kind of defense you want on the field. [Bonus is] nails, he’s a leader, he’s fiery, he’s afraid of nothing.”
Early in the game, Hofstra got on the scoreboard first, going 79 yards on ten plays in 4:51, scoring on a nice 17-yard run by Christopher, to lead 7-0, with 5:26 left in the opening quarter.
James Madison returned the ensuing kickoff 54 yards to the Hofstra 33, but with the lack of a passing game, they ran seven straight times before being sacked, settling for a 23-yard field goal on a nine-play drive in 5:04 that cut Hofstra’s lead to 7-3 with :19 remaining in the first quarter.
Later, trailing 14-3, JMU which scored all 17 of its points following three short kickoffs by Hofstra sophomore kicker Brian Hanly, benefited when sophomore Scott Noble took a short Hanly kick from the JMU own 25-yard line 30 yards to the Hofstra 45 yard-line. It only took two rushing plays from there –- a Noble 8-yard run and a nice 37-yard dash to the end zone by Thorpe for the Dukes to retaliate just 57 seconds after Wilson’s first touchdown, to draw within 14-10 with 9:37 left in the first half.
The third quarter began with another short Hanley kick to the JMU 29 yard-line, returned 14 yards by senior Mike Caussin to the JMU 43. Thorpe then keyed a 12-play, 57-yard drive, consuming the first 7:09 of the third quarter, by rushing six times for a total of 50 yards. That set up a 1-yard touchdown plunge for Noble which trimmed Hofstra’s lead to 21-17, with 7:51 left in the third quarter.
Each team then traded a punt before the Pride drove 14 plays, but only 27 yards, to the JMU 33 yard-line, but a 50-yard field goal attempt by kicker Henry Greco was blocked with 8:54 left in the game.
The teams again traded punts before JMU took over at its own 20 yard-line after a touchback with 5:27 left. Three plays later, Dudzik, on 3rd-and-17 from the JMU 13, was intercepted by freshman Jordan Dangerfield at the JMU 48. Dangerfield, who endured a huge hardship off the field just before the season started, returned the ball 28 yards to the JMU 20 yard-line with 3:53 remaining.
Hofstra then had no so much a drive, but a retreat, losing five yards on three plays to the JMU 25, before a 42-yard Greco field goal with 2:14 to go, for the final margin of 24-17.
The key interception was a very proud moment for a somewhat emotional Coach Cohen after the game, who detailed, “Jordan lost his Dad five days before college started this year… his Dad was one of his assistant coaches down in Florida. How do you handle college without your Dad, let alone college football?” Cohen, who attended the funeral for Dangerfield’s father with two other Hofstra coaches in New York, where Dangerfield’s father was originally from, added “That’s what college is all about, just to see kids grow and persevere. I’m very blessed, at 43, I have both my parents. To lose your Dad, who’s your coach and one of your best friends five days before camp, I can’t fathom that… In the middle of camp he left for four days to go to a memorial service down in Palm Beach County… that’s reality, that’s life, that’s not football.”
It may be a stretch, but some might conclude other forces at work on Dangerfield’s big play. Ironically, the Hofstra mascot lion, who doesn’t often wear a number, happened to be wearing Dangerfield’s uniform number 36, and was standing right behind the Hofstra bench near midfield, just before Dangerfield made his interception. According to Cohen, the news of Dangerfield’s father was kept within the team. The Pride mascot likely didn’t know of the death of Dangerfield’s father, who passed away from heart failure at the young age of 49, and had been wearing Dangerfield’s number on Saturday, perhaps by fate. For a bit of further irony, Cohen and Dangerfield, who are both Jewish, helped Hofstra win during the Jewish festival of Sukkot.
After Greco’s field goal, the Hofstra defense still had to come up with one final stop.
JMU started its final drive with 2:14 left, from its own 28 yard-line. Thorpe drove the Dukes to the JMU 41 before he launched an absolute prayer of an under throw that should have been intercepted, but senior Rockeed McCarter (who tied Wilson with a game-high 4 receptions), simply outleaped two Pride defenders to come down with a 35-yard catch and a first down at the Hofstra 24 yard-line with 1:31 remaining.
JMU then started to go backwards, themselves. A high snap which sailed over Thorpe’s head, recovered by Thorpe, lost 20 yards for the Dukes, to the Hofstra 44 yard-line. Not able to gain back a big chunk of yardage on the ground, Thorpe again came out for Dudzik, on 2nd-and 30. After incomplete pass to McCarter, Dudzik found McCarter for 27 yards, but McCarter was called for offensive pass interference, setting up an impossible 3rd-and-45 back at the JMU 41 yard-line. Dudzik again completed to McCarter, this time for 22 yards, but McCarter fumbled, where JMU recovered back at its own 48 yard-line. It was the fifth fumble of the game for JMU, which was fortunate to only lose one fumble on the day.
A good sport, Matthews, after pointing out how much the negative yardage plays hurt his team, exaggeratingly joked about the bad snap over Thorpe’s head, saying “The thing that hurt us really bad were our lost yards plays… We got the ball first down on the [Hofstra] 25 and we snap it over [Thorpe’s] head and we lose 197 yards.”
Finally, on 4th-and-38, Dudzik, threw an incomplete pass looking again for McCarter, allowing Hofstra to take a knee and run out the final seven seconds.
Matthew’s humor was also on display when speaking of Hofstra’s ability to keep the JMU defense on the field, by converting four of five fourth downs opportunities, with one of those conversions occurring during the Pride’s first touchdown drive, and another on the drive for Hofstra’s third touchdown. “What was the one they missed?” Matthew’s asked. “It must have been somewhere in the pre-game.”
Cohen said field position and confidence in his team’s offensive line to move the pile made the decisions to go for a first down on so many different fourth downs, easy ones. “Once the ball was a little bit out of our field goal kicking range,” he said, “And really, not necessarily beneficial for us to punt, the confidence in [our] run game made it an easy decision.”
The win was a huge departure from last season’s 56-0 Hofstra loss as then-top ranked JMU. “Obviously we’re very excited to beat a team of JMU’s caliber especially given last year’s results,” Cohen said,
It was a similar loss (47-0 to currently top ranked, CAA foe Richmond) two weeks ago which sparked Hofstra’s win on Saturday, something recognized by both Matthews and Cohen.
After the loss in Richmond, Cohen admitted “There was a lot of hostility on the field and I got on the players.” He added, “This game was won a week ago, Wednesday, in our locker room, our senior leadership, and in the character of our players after that Richmond game,” Cohen said. “Today was the end result of how we handled adversity following the Richmond debacle.”
Matthews agreed, saying ““Hofstra was embarrassed two weeks ago. They played like an embarrassed football team.” The JMU coach was also gracious in defeat, saying ““I thought they deserved to win. I thought they outplayed us, outcoached us. I thought they played very well”
Cohen denied that the win over last year’s defending CAA champion, which went a perfect 8-0 in the CAA last year, was a signature win. Instead, he said “The opponent doesn’t matter. It’s about us, it’s not about them. Am I excited about the win? Absolutely, but inevitably, for us to win, we had to play harder than we’ve played and cleaner than we’ve played.”
Looking ahead, Cohen said the victory “Reiterates to our players the talent level that we have in the locker room and capabilities and the potential that they have.”
After a big win, Hofstra will try to avoid a letdown in a homecoming game at home against unranked Maine (2-3, 1-1 CAA) at 1:00pm EST on Saturday.
Notes: Hofstra ended JMU’s 11-game CAA win streak overall, the Dukes’ 10-game CAA regular season win streak, and JMU’s five-game win streak against Hofstra… The Pride notched its first win over a top ten opponent since winning at No. 7 UMass in 2005… Due to the lack of a significant passing game on either side, the contest was actually played quickly, in only 2 hours, 14 minutes, making the game from start to finish, a typical elapsed time 3 hours, 1 minute, even with the 47-minute weather delay.