Dukes roll past Elon, secure playoff berth

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s football team did what it had to on Saturday, and got what it wanted on Sunday.

The Dukes cruised to a 59-27 Colonial Athletic Conference victory over Elon on Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium. On Sunday, the Dukes received an at-large bid into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

JMU will host Liberty on Nov. 29 at 4 p.m. in the first round of the playoffs. It’s JMU’s first playoff berth since 2011. JMU senior wide receiver DeAndre Smith was on the 2011 team, which lost in the second round of the playoffs.

“That was just a great experience my freshman year, being able to make the playoffs — nothing really like it,” Smith said after Saturday’s victory. “This is a whole nother feeling. I feel like our team is so much closer than it’s ever been. Knowing that we’re going to the playoffs, especially [for the seniors], — it’s amazing.”

JMU took control early in the victory over Elon. On the opening drive of the game, the Dukes went 72 yards on 11 plays.

Khalid Abdullah scored on a 3-yard touchdown run to put the Dukes up 7-0 with 11:42 left in the first quarter.

The Dukes ran for 227 yards as a team, including 100 yards, on 24 carries by Jauan Latney.

“We just wanted to come in and run the ball, because we haven’t been running as well lately,” Latney said. “So, we just came in knowing we were going to try to run the ball today.”

Elon put together a nice drive later in the first quarter, but a Taylor Reynolds interception in the end zone halted Elon’s momentum.

On Elon’s next possession, JMU redshirt sophomore Jimmy Moreland blocked a punt by the Phoenix at the Elon 29-yard line. It was Moreland’s fifth block on special teams this season.

Four plays later, Latney scored on a 4-yard touchdown run to push the JMU lead to 14-0 with 3:13 left in the opening quarter.

“We felt like we had to run the football no matter what people were doing against us,” JMU coach Everett Withers said. We saw a whole lot of different things up front, but we felt like we still had to find a way to run the football. Hats off to our offensive staff for sticking with it.”

On Elon’s next possession, JMU senior safety Dean Marlowe intercepted a pass from Elon quarterback Mike Quinn at the Elon 17-yard line.

The Dukes settled for a 34-yard field goal by Ryan Maglio to stretch the lead to 17-0 with 1:20 left in the first quarter.

The Phoenix took advantage of a JMU turnover early in the second quarter. A JMU fumble gave Elon the ball at the JMU 30-yard line.

Elon used a trick play to score on the next play. Wide receiver Justin Osborne took the ball on a run and threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Quinn to cut the lead to 17-7.

The Dukes scored on their next four possessions to blow the game wide open. JMU led 45-7 at the half, their most points in a half since 2005. They had 356 yards of offense in the opening half.

JMU quarterback Vad Lee threw for 257 yards completing 23 of 25 passes. His last pass attempt of the game, snapped a streak of 19 consecutive completions.

“I felt really comfortable back there just going through my reads, and the receivers just got open,” Lee said.

Eleven different players caught at least one pass for the Dukes, including Strasburg graduate Jonathan Kloosterman (one reception for 19 yards). It was Senior Day, and 19 seniors were honored before the game, including Handley graduate and defensive back Jeremiah Wilson (two tackles).

The Dukes held the Phoenix to only 177 yards rushing. It was a strong effort by the Dukes heading into the playoffs.

Withers said their goals going into the game was to stop the run of Elon.

“…we did that most of the day, until the last part of the second half,” Withers said. “[We wanted to] run the football today, and we did those things today. That to me is the mark of a good football team — winning the way you want to win.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com