Offense sparks Dukes to victory
By Tommy Keeler Jr.
HARRISONBURG –James Madison University finally got the offensive game they had been looking for.
The Dukes used a balanced offensive attack to defeat Albany, 40-13, in Colonial Athletic Association football action Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium.
“That’s what happens when we execute,” JMU quarterback Michael Birdsong said. “We come out and do what we did in the first half, put up a pretty good amount of points fairly easily, do what we wanted to do with the ball. That’s the way it should be.”
JMU (4-2, 1-1 CAA) took control of the game early. The Dukes needed only four plays to go 78 yards on their first possession.
Khalid Abdullah capped the drive off with a 38-yard touchdown run, running through several missed tackles on his way to the end zone with 11:18 left in the first quarter.
“It was a nice run,” JMU coach Mickey Matthews said of the run. “I thought Khalid did really good. He’s really strong.”
Albany responded with a drive of its own. The Great Danes used 10 plays to go 68 yards, before settling for a 24-yard field goal by Tom O’Riordan with 6:36 left in the first quarter.
On JMU’s next drive, the Dukes went 78 yards on just four plays. Birdsong connected with Daniel Brown for a 41-yard touchdown and a 12-3 lead with 5:26 left in the opening quarter.
It was the first of three touchdown passes from 6-foot-4 Birdsong to 6-foot-5 Brown, and the two have developed a good chemistry for the Dukes this season.
“I think it’s continuously building,” Brown said of the chemistry. “He’s a pretty good quarterback. I’ve got the easy part, he’s got the hard part.”
The Dukes added two more scores in the second quarter. A Dae’Quan Scott 3-yard run capped off a 67-yard, 10-play drive. Scott became JMU’s all-time leading scorer with the touchdown.
“It feels fine,” Scott said of the accomplishment. “I didn’t win nothing. I haven’t got a championship, so I didn’t even know that I was about to break it.”
Scott added another touchdown later, and now has 240 points in his career.
The Dukes added to the lead on another touchdown pass from Birdsong to Brown. The touchdown finished off a 64-yard, 10-play drive that gave JMU a 26-3 lead with 6:06 left in the first half.
Albany rallied in the third quarter, and gave JMU a challenge.
The Great Danes (1-5, 0-2) made the game closer with a seven-play, 46-yard drive, capped off by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Will Fiacci to Kevin Chillis with 2:05 left in the third quarter.
The Great Danes scored again with some help from the Dukes. Birdsong scrambled away from pressure and threw a pass from the end zone, but was called for intentional grounding giving Albany a safety. That cut the Great Danes’ deficit to 26-13 with 1:20 left in the third quarter.
“I think the third quarter was as good of a quarter as we’ve played all season,” Albany linebacker Christian Dorsey said. “And if we can keep that up, we can be competitive in all the games to come.”
The Dukes finally put the game out of reach with a 10-play, 86-yard drive. Scott’s 1-yard plunge gave the Dukes a 33-13 lead with 11:48 left in the game. Handley graduate Graham Sharples made his first career appearance and made the extra point.
Another touchdown from Birdsong to Brown finished off the scoring for the Dukes.
Matthews said he was happy with the way his team responded when the game became closer.
“We had that deadspot there, and you didn’t have to stop the game there and take a vote on our sideline [about how we we’re playing], when it was 26-13 and it was a two-score game,” Matthews said. “And we answered. We went down and knocked them out pretty quick. So that was a huge positive.”
Abdullah and Scott each had 87 yards rushing for the Dukes. Brown had five receptions for 86 yards and three receiving touchdowns, which is a school record. Birdsong went 18 for 28 for 249 yards and three touchdowns. JMU freshman linebacker and Warren County graduate Gage Steele had a career-high 18 tackles, including 13 solo.
JMU finished with 211 rushing yards and 249 passing yards.
The Dukes play host to Richmond next week, and Birdsong said he’s happy with how the Dukes played against Albany.
“We’re finding the flow,” Birdsong said of the offense. “We’re getting in the groove. Halfway point of the season, we should be clicking like we are now. It’s good to come out here and get it down like we did today, and hoepfully we can keep it going, keep on getting better.”
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd