Dukes overcome weather, 49ers
By Tommy Keeler Jr.
HARRISONBURG — With the conditions a little sloppy, JMU’s offense played like it at times.
The Dukes had five turnovers, but still did more than enough to pull out a 34-7 non-conference victory over UNC-Charlotte on Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium.
“We were very shaky,” JMU head coach Mickey Matthews said. “We cannot keep turning the ball over. That’s going to come up and bite us if we don’t watch it.”
Things didn’t start real well for the Dukes as redshirt freshman Coby Branch fumbled the opening kickoff. Charlotte’s Caleb Clayton-Mobley recovered at the JMU 31. Two plays later, Charlotte quarterback Matt Johnson scored on an 8-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 7-0 lead just 30 seconds into the game.
“When we fumbled to start the ballgame I told the coaches ‘that’s not going to be the last one just go ahead and play,'” Matthews said.
It was the first of three fumbles for JMU.
The Dukes responded with a 12-play, 76-yard drive. JMU tailback Dae’Quan Scott capped off the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7.
Scott finished the game with 176 yards rushing on 35 carries, and moved to third on JMU’s career rushing list (2,886).
“I want to give all praise to my offensive lineman,” Scott said of his play. “They did a good job tonight.”
JMU’s defense, which played solidly throughout the game, held the 49ers on a fourth-and-goal from the JMU 1. Handley graduate Jeremiah Wilson combined with Titus Till on the key stop.
“We had a chance there on fourth-and-1,” Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert said. “We went for it. We punch it in there, maybe it’s a little different game.”
JMU (3-1) took the lead for good in the first quarter. The Dukes went 99 yards on 11 plays. Scott appeared to be stopped at the line of scrimmage, but bounced to the outside and ran down the sidelines for a 20-yard touchdown run to put the Dukes up 20-7 with 2:44 left in the first quarter.
JMU added to its lead in the second quarter.Wilson recovered a fumble by Charlotte’s Martay Mattox to give JMU the ball at the Charlotte 37.
“I was just on my way over there and I saw the ball on the ground,” Wilson said. “It was a little wet, so I didn’t want to take a chance and pick it up and scoop and score. So, I just thought I’d lay on it and we could have the ball.”
On the next play, JMU quarterback Michael Birdsong connected with Quintin Hunter for a 37-yard touchdown pass and a 20-7 lead with 6:17 left in the first half.
The Dukes extended the lead in the third quarter. JMU wide receiver Rashard Davis went 36 yards on a reverse to put the Dukes up 27-7 with 5:45 left in the third quarter.
JMU ran for 321 yards as a team, and they also passed for 201 yards. Matthews said he was very happy with how well they threw the ball in the bad weather.
“The biggest improvement tonight was, in spite of the elements, I thought we showed a pretty solid throwing game,” Matthews said. “The fact that we hit some third downs. You become different offensively when you can convert throwing the ball on third down. It just helps.
“It was monsoon season out there. It’s hard to throw a shot put.”
True freshman Khalid Abdullah had a 6-yard touchdown run to give the Dukes a 34-7 lead with 11:20 left in the game. It was the first game of the season for Abdullah, who was originally red-shirted, and he had 61 yards on 13 carries.
Birdsong threw for 201 yards on 20 for 28 passing. The Dukes ran 94 plays on offense.
The 49ers (2-2) are in their first season as a program, and Lambert said he’s been pleased with his team so far this season.
“I really like where we are and I like our effort,” Lambert said. “We just gotta keep learning every week and take care of the ball. Do all the little things.”
JMU defensive lineman Jordan Stanton was ejected from the game in the second quarter after the referees called him for targeting on a hit to Charlotte’s Johnson. JMU defensive lineman Sage Harrold suffered a high ankle sprain early in the game and will likely be out at least a couple weeks.
The Dukes have been a little up and down throughout the season, and outside of the turnovers the players were happy with their performance.
“I think as a team, tonight was our night where we pretty much put it all together,” Birdsong said. “Offense, we ran the ball down their throat. We threw the ball when we needed to. Defense, they only gave up seven points, and that seven points started at their 30-yard line. I thought tonight was our night where we finally put it all together.
“Now we just gotta keep the train rolling, get a little bit better, keep on progressing and we’ll be just fine.”
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd