Career day for Thorpe lifts JMU over Rhode Island

Redshirt-senior quarterback Justin Thorpe had his first career 300-yard passing game to lead #6/7 James Madison football team to a 32-7 victory in their Colonial Athletic Association opener at Rhode Island, Sept. 22. The Dukes are now 11-3 in CAA openers under head coach Mickey Matthews and move to 3-1 and 1-0 in the CAA, while the Rams fall to 0-3 and 0-2 in league play.

Thorpe had career highs in completions, attempts and yards, going 26-for-40 for 340 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Sophomore wide receiver De’Andre’ Smith had a career-high eight receptions for 53 yards and one rushing score, while redshirt-junior receiver Renard Robinson had a career-high 87 yards and one touchdown on three catches.

On its opening possession, JMU moved down the field, starting with a 37-yard completion from Thorpe to redshirt-freshman tight end Derek Hart. Two plays later, Thorpe connected across the middle with redshirt-senior tight end Brian Barlow for a 22-yard touchdown pass. JMU then went for two with an off-set formation, where redshirt-junior Quintin Hunter ran it in to make it 8-0 JMU with just over 11 minutes to go in the first quarter.

On the ensuing drive, a crazy play occurred as quarterback Bob Bentsen completed a short pass to wide receiver Brandon Johnson-Farrell who looked like he was down on a flipped tackle. However, his knee never hit and he stayed on his feet for a 56-yard touchdown. URI cut the lead to 8-7 less than two minutes later.

The teams exchange possessions, and the Dukes took the ball over at its own 44 yard line. On third-and-7 from the JMU 48, Thorpe hit Robinson for a 40-yard completion. Two plays later Smith scored on end around from 8 yards out, with redshirt-junior Cameron Starke’s PAT making it 15-7 with 3:11 in first quarter.

Both teams moved the ball the remainder of the half but neither could put points on the board, so the Dukes went into the halftime break with an eight-point advantage.

On its second drive of the second half, the Dukes started out in good shape at the URI 40. JMU was able to get it down to the 6-yard line before the drive stalled. Starke came in and hit a 23-yard field goal with 5:40 to go in the third quarter to put Madison up 18-7.

After a 70-yard punt backed up the Dukes to their own 8-yard line, Madison put together a stellar drive., marching all 92 yards in 11 plays over 4:40. A pair of big third-down conversions through the air and a pass interference call in the end zone set up redshirt-senior running back Hykeem Brodie’s 1-yard touchdown run. Starke hit the PAT and Madison was in control at 25-7.

The Dukes sealed the game away on its next possession, as a mix of running and passing to move the ball. Thorpe went up top and hit Robinson with a 37-yard strike for a touchdown to seal the victory with a 32-7 lead with 10:44 to play in the game.

Madison had 498 yards of total offense while limiting the Rams to just 183 yards, including 95 yards after URI’s first two possessions of the game. JMU converted 11-of-20 third-down opportunities while holding URI to just 1-of-10. The Dukes were also 2-of-3 on fourth-down chances as compared to the Rams being unsuccessful on both of theirs.

Brodie was the leading ground gainer for the contest with nine carries for 58 yards and one touchdown. Barlow also had five catches for 62 yards and a score among the receiving leaders for JMU.

Bentsen was 15-for-28 for 164 yards and one score through the air for the Rams, with Johnson-Farrell leading the URI receiving corps with 71 yards and a touchdown on three receptions.

The Dukes will be off next week and will return home for three of their next four, starting with defending CAA champion Towson, Sat., Oct. 6. Kickoff for the sold-out Family Weekend contest at Bridgeforth Stadium is set for 1 p.m., and will be nationally televised on NBC Sports Network.

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