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Why We Love FCS: Rivalry Smack Talk in Virginia and Austin Peay’s rise out of the sinkhole

James Madison crushes Richmond’s football team and maybe the rivalry’s spirit. Austin Peay may win their first conference title since the Ford Administration.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 Richmond at James Madison Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

#2 JMU squashes the Ticks

James Madison won its fourth CAA conference title in five years on Saturday by beating Richmond 48-6. Ben DiNucci, JMU’s quarterback, gave us the perfect summary of this game (and this rivalry’s recent history) with his team up 31-6 late in the 3rd quarter:

The bulldozing of a defender when you’re up by 24 is reckless, as JMU Head Coach Curt Cignetti pointed out after the game. But it was a great image of the Dukes’ dominance of Richmond. The Dukes have won six of the last seven meetings, including the last four. They have won by 35 or more points in three of those games. Richmond has not led the Dukes since the 2nd quarter of their matchup in 2017.

The Dukes just ran over the Spiders, both literally and figuratively. But they did so not with the sort of animosity you would expect from a heated rivalry. They did so like DiNucci ran over that Spider defender: recklessly, definitively and without feeling.

Not that Richmond didn’t have a chance. Early in the first quarter, the Spiders drove 87 yards to JMU’s nine-yard line and looked poised to take a lead. Here’s what happened on the next three plays:

(1) Joe Mancuso, Richmond’s redshirt junior QB, found Charlie Fessler in the middle of the field. Fessler turned up field, broke a tackle, and dove for the goal line. But JMU corner Wesley McCormick poked the ball free and JMU recovered in the endzone.

(2) DiNucci threw an absolutely beautiful ball to a streaking, wide open Brandon Polk for an 80-yard touchdown.

(3) Richmond fumbled the ensuing kickoff and JMU kicker Camden Wise scooped it up to set up a Duke FG.

The three-play sequence didn’t decide the game, but it certainly defined it. Richmond kept making mistakes and James Madison kept making them pay. A Spider personal foul led to a Dukes TD four plays later. A sack and illegal formation forced Richmond to settle for a FG, then JMU marched down for a TD to make it 24-3. Right before the half, the Spiders were within two yards of a touchdown. Mancuso missed a wide open tight end on the goal line and got sacked so Richmond settled for a field goal.

The game really encapsulated where this rivalry is right now. JMU is so good that Richmond needs to be perfect to beat them and, unfortunately, the Spiders are far from perfect.

The separation between the teams seems to have chilled the rivalry a bit. I asked redshirt senior DB Rashad Robinson about the rivalry after the game. Robinson is one of just three Dukes to experience a loss to Richmond in his career and went to high school 15 minutes away from Richmond.

“Well, I mean, it’s an in-state rival. At the beginning of the year, we always want to win the state. Richmond has always been a rival here,” said Robinson. “You don’t want to lose to your rival. No matter what their record is, it’s always a rivalry, so it’s going to be a big game regardless.”

That’s it? Robinson’s sterile answer made me think of what rivalries actually mean to players. As Robinson began to speak, DiNucci, who transferred from Pitt last year, whispers off mic to Polk, a transfer from Penn State, that he “can’t answer that.” Both of them have been in Harrisonburg just a year after all.

To the Dukes’ players, Richmond is just another opponent to crush, just another obstacle on the way to the ultimate goal. JMU doesn’t need the extra motivation or hate. They just need to go about their business and they’ll probably win.

However, that doesn’t mean the fans have stopped hating the other school. As this fan identified simply as “Dirty” on the JMU message boards showed in the stands:

At the stadium, the Spiders got booed intensely. One guy near the press box (potentially Dirty) kept yelling for JMU to “RUN UP THE SCORE” and “GO FOR IT” up big. Online, JMU fans on message boards similarly roasted the Spiders by calling them Ticks. They call Richmond fans “sweater vests” because of their preppy reputation. Someone said that the Spiders should be moved to the Pat League, which made me cackle.

For their part, a group of Richmond fans called the “Spider Gang” led by Satchmo post some pretty interesting preview videos and tried to focus the conversation off the field. They pointed out that an interstate highway runs down the middle of JMU’s campus (which is accurate) and that it’s the only school in the turkey capital of the world (which is probably inaccurate).

Even though the players may not feel the rivalry as much, the fans always will. The fans will always want a way to one up their neighbors and talk trash to people online. No matter how many years one team wins or loses, a rivalry will continue as long as fans have to deal with the other side. But let’s hope Richmond improves so this rivalry has some juice going forward.

Austin Peay, miraculously, can win the OVC

The Austin Peay Governors have finally climbed out of the sinkhole. I’m not talking about the figurative sinkhole they were in for decades. Since 1981, APSU (Austin Peay State) finished with a winning record just four times. Over four seasons from 2013 to 2016, the Govs won ONE game. They went 6-25 on homecoming from 1986 to 2016. That’s a figurative sinkhole.

They also had a literal sinkhole in the endzone their football field in 2014:

Both the figurative and literal sinkholes “became bigger and bigger and bigger” as a school spokesperson said of the actual one. The Govs just kept getting worse until the nadir in 2016 when the team just finished its second-straight winless season and a four-year stretch in which it won 0.02% of games.

Then, just as the sinkhole was eventually plugged and gave way to a renovated Governors stadium, the football program has risen from the pit. They finished 8-4 and second in the OVC in 2017.

Now, they can win the Ohio Valley Conference for the first time since coach Boots Donnelly won it in 1977. The Govs can set a school-record with nine wins in a season. Most importantly, APSU could make the playoffs for the first time ever and could make some noise there as they rank 11th in FCS SP+.

All that stands in their way is 1-10 Eastern Illinois. A win would be the last step on the ladder out of the sinkhole, but a loss could plummet them back into it.

Quick Slants

We’re using quick slants to round out the playoff picture so far. Six teams have clinched their conferences:

  • Monmouth (Big South)
  • James Madison (CAA)
  • North Dakota State (MVFC)
  • Central Connecticut State (NEC; dashing the hopes of the Fighting Bobs of Robert Morris)
  • San Diego (Pioneer)
  • Wofford (Southern)

That means that four automatic qualifying (AQ) spots are up for grabs.

  • The Pat League: Somehow, both Lehigh and Lafayette lost to ruin my hopes of a defacto Pat League championship game in the Rivalry. Lafayette lost to Colgate, who also was 0-7 at one point, and Lehigh lost to Sacred Heart allowing me to bring up one of my favorite Scrubs joke: Sacred Fart. Holy Cross can win the league by beating Georgetown. If they don’t win, I honestly have no clue who goes to the playoffs from the Pat League.
  • The Big Sky: Montana, Sacramento State, and Weber State are all tied at the top and all only one loss to a team in the group. It doesn’t matter since all three teams should be top-8 national seeds regardless. But if they all win this weekend, Sagarin ratings could determine the AQ team.
  • Ohio Valley: AUSTIN PEAY BABY. They control their destiny like I mentioned. If they falter, Southeastern Missouri State takes the title by beating Murray State. Both teams losing would give APSU the AQ as the Governors beat SEMO earlier this year.

Southland: This is a easiest conference to explain. Thursday at 7 pm EST on ESPN+: Southeastern Louisiana plays Nicholls State for the Southland title and a spot in the playoffs. Enjoy!