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May 2—HARRISONBURG, Va. — The airport is located in Shenandoah Valley, halfway between the towns of Staunton and Harrisonburg.

To get to Harrisonburg — home of James Madison University, where UND will play its NCAA FCS quarterfinal game at 5 p.m. Sunday — you head north on Interstate 81 for about 15 minutes.

Just as you enter town, before you have time to take note of anything else, you see it. The west side of Bridgeforth Stadium rises above everything else in Harrisonburg and on campus.

If it seems more in line with FBS stadiums than those in the FCS ranks, that’s understandable.

Bridgeforth Stadium, capacity 25,000, is one of the largest in FCS. Since expanding the venue in 2011, the Dukes have ranked in the top five in FCS attendance every season. They’ve been top-two in attendance four times and top-three eight times. If they were an FBS team, their average attendance would be similar to Conference USA and the Sun Belt, more than the MAC.

FCS teams have not fared well in Bridgeforth Stadium.

James Madison is 36-1 in its last 37 home games.

What happened in the one loss? In 2018, Elon scored a touchdown with 77 seconds left to sneak out a 27-24 win. Two months later, the Dukes hired Elon’s coach, Curt Cignetti, and they haven’t lost at home since.

James Madison will take a 16-game home winning streak into today’s game against UND.

The experience will be a little different for UND, though.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there won’t be 20,000-plus in the stadium. The state of Virginia allows for 30 percent capacity and requires six feet of social distancing between groups, so JMU is expecting around 6,000 for the quarterfinal game.

The crowd limits haven’t been an issue for James Madison this season. The Dukes are 4-0 at home, averaging 35.5 points per game and a margin of victory of 24 points.

In a normal year, there are several factors that aid James Madison’s home attendance besides just the stadium and the success of the team.

One is enrollment. James Madison’s undergraduate enrollment is about 20,000. It also has another 2,000 graduate students.

Another is the location of the stadium. It’s right on campus, just two blocks away from the quad and a cluster of academic buildings. It’s an easy walk for those who live on campus.

The Fighting Hawks got their first look at Bridgeforth Stadium on Saturday afternoon. While they traveled to Virginia on Friday, they’re staying 30 minutes away in Staunton and were required to quarantine at the hotel until their Saturday walk-through and coronavirus testing.

A lake on campus

The stadium has a nice setting.

Cutting through the heart of campus and directly behind the massive western side of Bridgeforth Stadium is Newman Lake.

On Saturday evening, some students were even fishing in Newman Lake, which was formed in 1967 when Sieberts Creek, a small stream that enters campus, was dammed.

A fountain was added to Newman Lake in 1996, given to the university by a donor.

The JMU quad

If you walk two minutes north of the stadium, you’ll reach the quad.

It’s a rectangular greenspace surrounded by the university’s academic buildings.

On Saturday, the quad was buzzing with students taking photos in their purple graduation gowns. It is currently finals week at James Madison. Graduation ceremonies are scheduled to run from Thursday through Sunday.

Robot delivery on campus

The James Madison campus is crawling with robot delivery vehicles, about the size of your suitcase.

Be careful, because although they have an orange flag to draw attention, they’ll cut you off on the roadway.

The robots, courtesy of Starship Technologies, deliver food on campus and can be unlocked with a phone.

According to a Harrisonburg Citizen report in 2020, a fleet of 30 delivery robots came to Harrisonburg from a San Francisco-based company.

The company first launched at George Mason University in 2019.

The robots primarily stick to sidewalks and crosswalks, using mapping technology and a sensor equipped with cameras, GPS and radar. They can hop curbs, though.

A look at downtown

The center of downtown, located about a mile from the quad, is the county courthouse, built in 1897.

The area filled with bars and restaurants. Two of the staples are Jack Brown’s and Billy Jack’s. But you can also find Cuban, Asian, Indian, seafood, pizza and more.

Because restaurants still have capacity limits due to the pandemic, wait times can be long during dinner hours. But downtown was fairly quiet by 9 p.m. Saturday.

Bonus photos

Photo 1: A view of Shenandoah Valley from the airplane as it prepares for landing. The area is extremely green already.

Photo 2: The Duke Dog statue sits in front of Bridgeforth Stadium on the campus of James Madison University.

Photo 3: The west side of Bridgeforth Stadium stands out on campus.

Photo 4: A JMU sign is located on campus.

Photo 5: Train tracks run through James Madison University’s campus — directly on the north side of Bridgeforth Stadium. Trains have been known to make JMU students late for class.

Photo 6: Outdoor seating at Jack Brown’s in downtown Harrisonburg is popular on a nice night.