By Tommy Keeler Jr.
HARRISONBURG -- Poise under pressure.
That was the key to JMU's 13-10 victory over Towson on Saturday afternoon.
The Dukes had 181 yards of total offense as quarterback Justin Thorpe and his teammates took the field with 3:16 left in the game. JMU trailed the Tigers 10-6 and needed to go 79 yards to take the lead.
While many of the JMU fans may have been worried, Thorpe and the Dukes stayed calm.
"We just all got together as a team and said we know what we can do on offense," Thorpe said. "We know we can get the ball in the end zone, and that's what we did."
JMU (4-1, 2-0 CAA) had only 56 passing yards, and Thorpe was only 5-for-13 as they began the series. However, with the game on the line Thorpe and his receivers stepped up and drove methodically down the field.
Thorpe connected with DeAndre Smith on back-to-back passes for 22 yards. Then Thorpe threw a screen pass to running back Dae'Quan Scott for a gain of six more yards.
On the next play, Thorpe found tight end Brian Barlow for a 20-yard gain to move the ball to the Towson 31. Barlow suffered a concussion on the play and did not return, but the injury didn't slow down the Dukes.
Two more pass plays and a 10-yard run by Scott moved the ball to the Towson 9. On the next play, Thorpe found some room to run and made his way into the end zone with 1:24 left in the game.
"The reason I got that scramble there was because they [were] dropping their linebackers the whole game, and shooting the linebackers into the gaps to try to stop the run," Thorpe said. "And on that drive they [were] just backing everybody up, so I had plenty of time to make decisions."
Thorpe said the team practices the two-minute drill every day in practice and that made it much easier to perform in the waning moments of the game.
"I threw the ball, the receivers caught it and the o-line did a heck of a job blocking everybody," Thorpe said. "We just moved down the field. The thing is to not get overly excited and maintain your composure, and that's what we did."
The Tigers (2-3, 1-1) still had a little life left in them. They moved the ball 18 yards to the Towson 43 with less than a minute left.
Facing a third-and-5 from the Towson 43, quarterback Grant Enders had his pass intercepted by JMU safety Dean Marlowe to seal the win.
"Everybody on defense was doing a good job, and he actually over threw the ball," said Marlowe, who had two interceptions on the day. "I was in the right place at the right time."
The interception ended a furious fourth quarter in what had been a defensive struggle for much of the game.
The Dukes led 6-3 at the half, aided by a career-long 49-yard field goal by Cameron Starke in the first quarter. The two teams combined for only 230 yards of offense in the opening half.
The Dukes had even more trouble moving the ball in the third quarter, and were playing into the wind. The two teams combined for seven consecutive punts to start the second half.
Towson finally got its offense going on its second drive of the fourth quarter. The Tigers used a 14-play 92-yard drive to take its first lead of the game on a 7-yard touchdown run by Enders with 3:21 left in the game.
"I thought it was a great drive by them into the wind," JMU coach Mickey Matthews said. "Enders just willed them down the field there. That's a tremendous drive by them."
The Dukes then responded, and it was a game-winning drive that will give the team even more confidence for the rest of the season.
"Any time you do what we did today it's going to give you confidence," Matthews said. "Our players are confident, but there was really no panic on our sideline."
Towson had 317 yards of offense, but 110 of that came on the Tigers' final two possessions.
Thorpe finished with 116 passing yards, 60 of which came on the game-winning drive. Scott had 85 yards rushing, after missing the last two games with a high-ankle sprain.
JMU will play host to William and Mary this Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Matthews said it was a big win for his team against a very tough opponent.
"That was two good teams playing today," Matthews said. "You look at the stats and look at the scoreboard, we could've played 10 times, and we'd win five and they'd win five. And today we made two or three more plays at the end than they did."
Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org