By Tommy Keeler Jr.
HARRISONBURG -- True freshman Michael Birdsong made his first start at quarterback for JMU on Saturday, but it was the Dukes' running game and defense that made the difference in the game.
The Dukes held off a late rally and held on for a 28-21 win over Georgia State in CAA action.
JMU coach Mickey Matthews was very unhappy with the play of his team, especially in the fourth quarter.
"[Leading] 28-7 our players thought the game was over, and obviously they didn't think the game was over on their sideline," Matthews said.
Clinging to a 28-21 lead with 6:31 left in the game, the Dukes put together a solid drive. They went 51 yards in 12 plays, 10 of which were running plays.
However, JMU kicker Cameron Starke missed his third field goal of the day, all of which were wide left, with 56 seconds left. Starke missed from 41 yards out, which gave the Panthers the ball at the Georgia State 24.
An 18-yard pass from Ben McLane to Lynquez Blair and a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty moved the ball to the JMU 45 with three seconds left.
JMU's Sage Harrold sacked McLane to end the game. The Dukes (6-2, 4-1 CAA) have struggled much of the season with their pass rush, but had three sacks against Georgia State, including two on the final drive.
"As far as closing out the game, it was kind of sloppy until that final drive," JMU redshirt junior Stephon Robertson said. "Towards the end it was really important to have those two sacks. That's big on the d-line."
Late in the third quarter JMU got a little breathing room. The Dukes used a five-play 68-yard drive to take a 21-7 lead with 1:12 left in the third quarter.
Scott had a 29-yard run, which helped set-up Jordan Anderson's 13-yard touchdown run.
The Dukes forced the Panthers (1-7, 1-4) to punt on their next series, and JMU redshirt sophomore Brandon Lee blocked the punt and returned it three yards for the touchdown.
"At the beginning of the game [the lineman] was blocking me harder than he was at the end of the game," Lee said. "So, I knew If I went hard I would get through."
The Panthers responded with an eight-play, 81-yard drive. Georgia State's Rosevelt Watson connected with Emmanuel Ogbuehi for a 5-yard touchdown with 10:47 left in the game.
On Georgia State's next series, the Panthers used a fake punt to cut the deficit to seven. Ogbuehi ran the fake punt for a 55-yard gain to the JMU 10. On the next play, McLane threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Parris Lee.
JMU got on the board first after a Georgia State turnover. Georgia State's Travis Evans fumbled the ball at the Panther 23 and it was recovered by JMU's Jamie Veney only 15 seconds into the game.
The Dukes needed only four plays to score, as Birdsong connected with Scott for a 6-yard touchdown with 13:10 left in the first quarter.
Georgia State tied the game at 7-7 late in the first quarter. The Panthers used an eight-play 81-yard drive, which was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by Watson with 5:05 left in the opening half.
The Dukes took the lead for good early in the second quarter. They used a seven-play 63-yard drive, capped off by a 4-yard run by Scott with 13:59 left in the first half. Birdsong used his legs as much his arm on the drive with two carries for 19 yards on the drive.
Birdsong finished the game 11 for 23 for 119 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He said he was not pleased with how he played.
"I can play a lot better," Birdsong said. "I'm not happy with it, but I'm happy we got the win."
The Dukes ran for 233 yards as a team, including 130 by Scott.
Matthews said he was very upset with how his team played against the Panthers.
"We didn't do anything well," Matthews said. "We didn't throw it well. We didn't catch it well. We had dropped passes. We played decent defense at times, but we still tackled very poorly. We punted the ball very poorly. We missed three field goals.
"What else is there? It sums it up I think."
Contact assistant sports editor Tommy Keeler Jr. at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org