JMU wins playoff thriller
Redshirt-sophomore Cameron Starke drilled a 35-yard field goal into a strong wind as time expired to lift #17 James Madison to a 20-17 win at Eastern Kentucky in the opening round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship at Roy Kidd Stadium, Nov. 26. With their third consecutive victory, the Dukes move to 8-4 on the year and advance to play No. 2 seed North Dakota State next Saturday, while the Ohio Valley Conference co-champion Colonels end the season at 7-5.
Late in the fourth quarter, JMU halted EKU’s drive as redshirt-sophomore Stephon Robertson flushed quarterback T.J. Pryor from the pocket and forced him into redshirt-senior linebacker Pat Williams for a sack at the EKU 18. Jordan Berry’s 46-yard punt was muffed but recovered by JMU to give them possession on its own 36. From there, the Dukes got a first down and moved to the EKU 43 for a 4th-and-2 with 1:34 left in regulation. The Colonels called a time out as JMU was setting up to punt. The Dukes reconsidered, sending the offense out for the play and converting it as redshirt-sophomore running back Dae’Quan Scott got four yards to keep the drive alive. Madison earned another first down and got the ball down to the EKU 19 with one second remaining. Two time outs were called by the hosts to try and ice the JMU kicker, but Starke stepped up and drilled his second game-winning field goal of the season down the middle to propel the Dukes to the second round.
JMU controlled the flow of the game, holding the ball for a staggering 40:30 of the contest while outgaining the Colonels 393-213. In the second half alone, JMU has 52 offensive plays to just 14 for the Colonels while keeping the ball for more than 23 minutes. The Dukes rushed for 244 yards in the game and threw for 149, while limiting EKU to just 119 yards on the ground, more than 80 yards below its season rushing average. Madison also didn’t give the ball up on a turnover in the game to a team that came in as a plus-16 in the turnover column for the year.
Eastern Kentucky had the first threat of the game after a long punt return by Justin Bell put the Colonels in business at the JMU 16, with junior Jakarie Jackson making the touchdown-saving tackle. However on the second play from the Dukes 13, Pryor was intercepted by cornerback Leavander Jones in the end zone to end the threat.
JMU dominated the possession in the first quarter and eventually made it count early in the second after the interception, converting several third downs on the arm of redshirt-junior quarterback Justin Thorpe. Redshirt-sophomore running back Jordan Anderson capped off the 14-play, 80-yard drive by plunging in from one yard out for the first points of the game. Starke hit the scoreboard with his made point after attempt and the Dukes led 7-0 with 13:55 to go in the first half.
Going with the strong wind, EKU got on the board in the second quarter, utilizing two big passes to get down to the JMU 1. On second down, running back H.B. Banjoman scored over the left side of the line for the touchdown. Kicker Luke Pray hit the point after attempt and the game was knotted at 7 with 7:41 remaining in the second.
The Colonels had the last shot in the first half, as Pray came on for a 48-yard field goal attempt from the right hash mark with a stiff wind at his back. The line shot split the uprights as time expired and host EKU went into the halftime break with a 10-7 advantage.
JMU opened with the ball to start the second half and moved into the red zone. However, the drive stalled at the EKU 19. From there, Starke appeared to hit a 36-yard field goal but the attempt was ruled wide right by the officials and the host Colonels held on to the 10-7 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Eastern Kentucky got back on the scoreboard as running back Matt Denham busted off a 66-yard run to get to the JMU 1. From there, Banjoman took it in over the right end and extended the lead to 17-7 for the Colonels with 5:55 to go in the third.
Madison battled back and drove down the field again, getting down to the EKU 4. However, the Dukes had to settle for a field goal attempt, with this one good by Starke from 21 yards out to trim the lead to 17-10 with 27 seconds left in the third.
The Dukes put together a drive on their following possession after stopping EKU on a 3rd-and-1. Getting the ball its own 24, JMU put together an 8-play, 76-yard drive, keyed by a 25-yard third-down conversion from Thorpe to senior wide receiver Kerby Long. After moving it to the EKU 40, Anderson took it on the final two carries, going 16 yards on the first and 24 yards into the end zone on the second, busting a pair of tackles. The point after was good, tying the game at 17 with just over 10 minutes remaining in the contest.
JMU was led by Thorpe, who gained a career-high 93 yards on 28 carries while he was also 9-for-16 for 149 yards through the air. Scott and Anderson both chipped in solid games on the running attack, with Scott going for 75 yards on 24 carries and Anderson recording 15 carries for 71 yards and the two scores. Three players reeled in two receptions each, led by Renard Robinson’s 50 yards.
Denham led all rushers with 17 carries for 125 yards, but was limited to just 59 yards on 16 of those carries. Proyor finished 10-for-15 for 94 yards and one interception, with Matt Lengel is top target with three catches for 27 yards.
The Dukes will head to Fargo, N.D. to take on the Bison Saturday, Dec. 3 in the second round of the playoffs. Kickoff at the Fargo Dome is set for 3 p.m. Central.