Lee, Dukes top Red Flash
By Tommy Keeler Jr.
HARRISONBURG –Vad Lee stepped up.
With the game up in the air, the JMU quarterback knew someone had to make a play, and the junior did just that. His long touchdown run gave the Dukes some breathing room en route to a 38-22 non-conference victory over Saint Francis on Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium.
With the Dukes clinging to a 24-22 lead late in the third quarter, Lee weaved his way through the Saint Francis defense 76 yards for a rushing touchdown to JMU all the cushion it would need.
“It was great blocking,” Lee said of the touchdown. “Credit all the guys that was blocking, everybody competed well on that play. It was just so much open grass and we just needed to make a play at that point, because we struggled being consistent on offense. We really needed that.”
Lee did a little bit of everything on offense for the Dukes on Saturday. The transfer from Georgia Tech ran for 174 yards on 18 carries, and threw for 147 yards and touchdown passes.
Lee entered the game with only 95 yards rushing in his first two games, but credited the offensive line for helping him against Saint Francis.
“The offensive line did a great job, opening up lanes to where I had no choice but to run,” Lee said.
Saint Francis moved the ball on JMU in the first quarter. On the Red Flash’s opening drive they went 58 yards on six plays, but running back Khairi Dickson fumbled the ball on a hit by Titus Till and was eventually recovered by Taylor Reynolds at the JMU 41 with 10:31 left in the opening quarter.
On the Red Flash’s next possession, they again moved the ball, but JMU cornerback and true freshman Jimmy Moreland intercepted a Zack Drayer pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 JMU lead with 6:43 left in the opening quarter.
“He’s a playmaker,” JMU head coach Everett Withers said of Moreland. “He makes plays. That’s what we try to recruit — is guys that can make plays. They make the coaches look good.”
The Red Flash (1-2) came right back with a six play 80-yard drive, led by the running of Dickson. The junior tailback had 64 yards on the drive, including a 1-yard plunge to tie the game at 7-7 with 4:22 left in the first quarter.
On Saint Francis’ next drive, they moved the ball 55 yards on just three plays to take the lead. Dickson had back-to-back runs of 20 and 36 yards, respectively, to move the ball to the JMU 4. Marcus Bagley scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, and a Matt Camilletti two-point conversion gave the Red Flash a 15-7 lead with 1:07 left in the first quarter.
The Dukes (2-1) bounced back strong in the second quarter, thanks in big part to the Lee-to-Daniel Brown connection. The pair connected three times for 34 yards on JMU’s next drive, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 15-14 with 14:10 left in the first half.
Brown entered the game with only three catches all season, but had six for 67 yards and two scores against the Red Flash.
“There were only a couple times [that the defenders] really got in my face and pressed me. They played more off coverage,” Brown said of his strong game. “From about the start I had about ten yards of space to work with, and I think that was the difference.”
JMU drove the ball to the Saint Francis 7-yard line on its next drive, but had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Connor Arnone for a 17-15 lead with 8:57 left in the first half.
On JMU’s next possession, the Dukes went 65 yards in nine plays. Lee flipped a shovel pass to the 6-foot-5 Brown who ran it in from five yards out to give the Dukes a 24-15 edge with 31 seconds left in the first half. Brown said it’s a play they had worked on all week.
“I was surprised that I was the first one they told to go to that spot, but I think it was more because it was on the goal line,” Brown said of the touchdown. “I think if it had been on the fifty, they probably would have given it to a more agile guy. It’s something that we practiced. There’s some plays they won’t let me run, because I’m not agile enough, but that one down on the goal line I’m pretty confident in just putting my head down and getting across the goal line.”
The Red Flash scored on a nine play 83-yard drive to cut the lead to 24-22 with 4:13 left in the third quarter on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Zack Drayer to Anthony Abeid.
Lee then answered with his touchdown run to pull away for good.
“That was a big momentum swing,” Withers said of Lee’s touchdown.
The Red Flash had 207 yards of offense in the first quarter, but only 213 in the final three quarters of the game.
“We settled down. We were a little rowdy at the beginning,” JMU redshirt junior linebacker Ascene Jacques said. “It was the first home game, but then after we settled down, we all came together and flew to the ball a little bit. We had a lot of fun.”
Jacques, Sage Harold, true freshman Aaron Peak and Dean Marlowe each had 10 tackles to lead the JMU defense.
Redshirt senior tailback Jauan Latney rushed for 106 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown for JMU. The Dukes ran for 338 yards against the Red Flash.
It wasn’t a perfect game for the Dukes, who were penalized 10 times for 90 yards, but they weer happy to get a win in their first home game of the season.
“We’re going to get better from here,” Lee said. “It’s always good to say that you can get better with a win. I’m certainly happy that we got this win, and we’re going to get better.”
Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd