Dukes overcome six turnovers in victory over Great Danes

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University didn’t play its best football on Saturday.

The Dukes turned the ball over six times, but still managed to pull out a 42-28 Colonial Athletic Association victory over Albany at Bridgeforth Stadium.

Despite the six turnovers, five of which were interceptions thrown by quarterback Vad Lee, the Dukes had 625 yards of offense, 40 first downs and ran 98 offensive plays.

“I think it’s good to be 3-0 after you don’t play very good, and we didn’t play very well today,” JMU head coach Everett Withers said. “Any time you don’t play very well and you have (over) 600 yards total offense and 42 points it’s a pretty good day.”

The Great Danes (1-2, 1-1 CAA) came up with six turnovers for the second straight game, but it wasn’t enough against the Dukes’ high-powered offense.

The game was tied at 14-14 at halftime, but the Dukes (3-0, 1-0 CAA) took control in the third quarter.

After forcing an Albany punt, the Dukes went 74 yards on 10 plays. A 13-yard touchdown pass from Lee to Rashard Davis gave the Dukes a 21-14 lead.

Lee threw three of his four touchdown passes in the third quarter. He completed a 49-yard strike to Ishmael Hyman with 8:09 left in the third quarter. Lee followed that up with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Domnique Taylor with 1:20 left in the third quarter for a 35-14 lead.

Lee finished the game 24-for-36 for 275 yards.

Withers said Lee just had a “bad day.” His teammates said he was still upbeat even though things weren’t going his way.

“Vad’s a great leader,” JMU tailback Khalid Abdullah said “We all have our and downs as players. Nobody’s perfect. He leaned on us, like we lean on him every single play. …We just basically believed in him because he’s the leader of the team. That’s just what we do every single play.”

Abdullah and Cardon Johnson led the way on offense for JMU. Abdullah finished with 143 yards on 28 carries, while Johnson had 134 yards on 17 carries.

“I think we executed great up front,” Johnson said. “We made some adjustments at halftime. So that led us into the second half, and that made us go out and execute.”

The Dukes ran the ball 33 times in the second half with only 15 pass attempts.

JMU senior offensive lineman Austin Lane said that he was happy that relied more on the run game in the second half.

“That’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what we did,” Lane said. “We knew we were getting consistent yardage on the run, and we just said let’s stop dancing around it and pound it up the middle, and that’s what we did. We got (Abdullah and Johnson), that make it easy.”

The Dukes turned the ball over on the first play of the game. Quarterback Vad Lee’s pass was intercepted by Colin Cooper, but he fumbled the ball on the return and JMU wide receiver Rashard Davis recovered it at the JMU 33.

Four plays later Lee connected with tight end Deane Cheatham for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 13:27 left in the first quarter.

Lee was picked off again on the next possession by Rayshan Clark at the JMU 35 and returned to the 18-yard line.

The Great Danes needed only four plays to tie the game at 7-7. Albany quarterback DJ Crook capped it off with a 3-yard touchdown run with 8:40 left in the opening quarter.

The Dukes took the lead again in the first quarter. Johnson’s 7-yard touchdown run finished off a six-play 51-yard drive by the Dukes with 4:34 left in the opening quarter.

JMU’s offense sputtered in the second quarter as Lee threw two more interceptions and fumbled the ball once.

The Great Danes took advantage of Lee’s fourth interception of the half with a three-play 53-yard drive. Albany’s Elliot Croskey scored on a 27-yard run to tie the game at 14-14 with 4:56 left in the first half.

Lane said that the Dukes weren’t surprised by how close the contest was.

“We knew it was coming,” Lane said. “We went into this game knowing it was going to be a fist fight. Albany — their coach — teaches them to play hard, and that’s what was going to happen and that is what happened.”

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