HAMILTON, N.Y. — The James Madison contingent of fans, bundled up in purple on a chilly Saturday afternoon in Central New York, went quiet. On the other side of the field, Colgate’s players brimmed with optimism.
After a fake punt failed to convert, the Raiders had marched down to the 21-yard line, where Chris Puzzi nailed a 38-yard field goal as the clock hit zero. JMU was stunned.
In the second-round playoff Saturday afternoon at Andy Kerr Stadium, James Madison (9-4) fell to No. 8 Colgate (10-1) 23-20. It’s possibly the final game of the Mike Houston era, as the JMU head coach explores other coaching options.
Houston was offered a job at UNC Charlotte this week, an offer that was later rescinded.
“I don’t know what my future holds,” Houston said. “I made a mistake with people I associated with this week. ... I’ve got a really good job. I’ve got great kids.”
Appearing in a program-record fifth-straight playoffs, the Dukes managed the week with a major distraction. Houston said he’s disappointed college football coaching searches occur during playoff time. He’s built JMU stronger over his three seasons, tallying 37 wins, the national title in 2016 and a title-game appearance last year. He said in his time that the senior class elevated the program and raised the expectations for the program.
His Dukes faced one of the best defenses in the country on the road. JMU began Saturday coming off a 20-6 win over Delaware, and it entered halftime ahead 10-6. Houston said his strategy centered on limiting the Raiders’ rushing attack — JMU held Colgate to 3.1 yards per carry — but Dukes quarterback Ben DiNucci threw five interceptions and completed 19 of his 33 throws in the season-ending loss.
“I played terrible,” said DiNucci, who ran for 76 yards and one touchdown. “Five interceptions — it can’t happen at any level. I had my worst game probably of my career.”
With 3:51 left in the third, Colgate took the lead on a pass to the right corner of the end zone. On JMU’s ensuing possession, DiNucci threw an interception. The momentum had swung against them. The Raiders failed to capitalize, but DiNucci threw another interception on the first play of the fourth quarter.
In the fourth, DiNucci had another chance. He ran in the ball to cap a six-play, 44-yard drive to tie the game at 20 with 8:22 left.
“We started off really hot,” Houston said. “That’s a game we thought we were going to win. Just couldn’t make a couple of plays late.”
The killer moment came with under three minutes left. The Dukes set up to punt on fourth down at midfield. There was an option to fake the punt, and seeing the look, the Dukes ran the ball. Houston said the play should have worked. But JMU came just short of the marker, and the Raiders took over — all but ending JMU’s chance at scoring last. Colgate kicked the game-winning field goal on its next possession.
“I thought that was our shot right there,” Houston said of the run-punt read. “It should have been a first down.”
James Madison 7 3 3 7 — 20
Colgate 3 3 14 3 — 23
JMU–Johnson 2 run (Ratke kick), 12:28.
COLG–FG Puzzi 37, 3:07.
JMU–FG Ratke 34, 13:19.
COLG–FG Puzzi 23, 2:30.
JMU–FG Ratke 38, 13:33.
COLG–Breneman 32 run (Puzzi kick), 10:39.
COLG–Rockett 14 pass from Breneman (Puzzi kick), 3:51.
JMU–DiNucci 7 run (Ratke kick), 8:22.
COLG–FG Puzzi 38, 0:00.
First downs 21 14
Rushes-yards 39-200 45-140
Passing 192 190
Comp-Att-Int 19-35-5 14-23-0
Return Yards 93 29
Punts-Avg. 3-37.3 6-37.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-1
Penalty-Yards 5-62 4-32
Time of Possession 25:00 35:00
RUSHING–James Madison, B. DiNucci 10-76, C. Johnson 13-66, T. Sharp 7-30, M. Marshall 8-26, H. O’Kelly 1-2. Colgate, J. Holland Jr. 25-89, G. Breneman 18-33, T. Caine 1-9, A. Mathews 1-9.
PASSING–James Madison, B. DiNucci 19-33-5-192, G. Moloney 0-2-0-0. Colgate, G. Breneman 14-23-0-190.
RECEIVING–James Madison, J. Brown 4-62, D. Stapleton 4-52, D. Eldridge 4-30, K. Dean 4-27, C. Johnson 1-13, R. Stapleton 1-5, T. Sharp 1-3. Colgate, O. Rockett 5-104, J. Holland Jr. 5-46, O. Buscaglia 2-28, N. Martinsen 2-12.