Dukes trounce Mountain Hawks

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University made it look easy again on Saturday.

For the second straight game, the Dukes put up impressive offensive numbers in a rout. JMU pulled away in the second quarter for a 55-17 victory over Lehigh at Bridgeforth Stadium.

“A lot of guys played well,” JMU head coach Everett Withers said. “I think any time you can win and still have stuff to work on, it’s a good thing. We’ve got a lot of stuff we can correct, and a lot of stuff we can continue to get better at. We’re excited about the win.”

JMU (2-0) finished with 618 yards of total offense, coming off last week’s school-record 713 yards in the season opener.

The Dukes scored on their opening possession with an eight-play 72-yard drive. Vad Lee’s 13-yard pass to Cardon Johnson gave the Dukes a 7-0 edge with 12:26 left in the first quarter.

The Mountain Hawks (1-1) came right back with a quick score of their own. Lehigh quarterback Nick Shafnisky connected with running back Dom Bragalone for a 72-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7 just a little over three minutes into the game.

JMU went 63 yards on the ensuing drive, but a JMU penalty backed the Dukes up on first-and-goal from the Lehigh 9. The Dukes eventually settled for a 33-yard field goal by Ryan Maglio for a 10-7 lead with 8:28 remaining in the first quarter.

The Dukes then began to pull away. The Dukes drove 77 yards in 12 plays and capped things off with a three-yard touchdown run by Johnson for a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Special teams played a role in JMU’s next score. Lehigh punter Austin Devine fumbled the ball. JMU true freshman Rashad Robinson picked up the loose ball and took it in for the score from 34 yards out to extend JMU’s lead with 11:02 left in the first half.

“We just got ourselves in the right position, and when he dropped the ball Rashad Robinson was there to scoop and score,” Withers said. “Last week we fell on the ball, when we should have scooped it. This week we picked it up and ran it, so we got better in that area this week.”

The Dukes added two touchdowns on their next two possessions. Khalid Abdullah capped off a 76-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, and Lee finished off an 80-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown run.

“It’s fun,” Lee said of JMU’s quick-strike offense. “I know the O-line they love it, because they get tired in the game. They love those quick drives when we go in and score. … It’s fun when we’re in a rhythm and going fast and scoring points.”

The Dukes had a very balanced attack offensively as they threw for 349 yards and ran for 269 yards. Lee went 24-for-31 for 334 yards.

He said it really helps the passing game when the running game is going strong as well.

“We’ve been in a rhythm and we’re just trying to stay balanced,” Lee said. “…They’ve been doing a really good job in the running game, and that opened up the passing game as well. We’ve got some playmakers outside, and it’s my job to get them the ball. I think the coaches have been putting us in the right positions to do well.”

One of Lee’s biggest targets was tight end Deane Cheatham, who had eight receptions for 118 yards.

“I just trusted our scheme and took advantage of our opportunities,” Cheatham said.

JMU’s defense held Lehigh to only 70 yards rushing on 40 carries. JMU linebacker and Warren County grad Gage Steele led the team with nine tackles, including five solo. He also had one of JMU’s seven sacks.

“Stopping the run is what we focus on,” Steele said. “We want to dominate the run first and make them one dimensional. That’s a big thing that we focus on everyr week. It’s something that we’ll continue to focus on.

“We’re going to keep on getting better.”

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