Johnson leads powerful JMU offense in rout

HARRISONBURG — Cardon Johnson had been waiting two years for his moment — for a chance to step on the field as a JMU Duke and carry the ball.

His time finally arrived Saturday night and he made it one to remember. Johnson’s strong night helped lift James Madison University to a 56-7 victory over Morehead State at Bridgeforth Stadium.

“It was amazing,” said Johnson, who ran for 123 yards on 14 carries. “You got to give all the credit to the O-line. They executed up front. They did a great job.”

Johnson, a redshirt sophomore, missed the last two years due to injuries. As a senior at Warwick High School, Johnson suffered a neck injury, which forced him to redshirt in his first year at JMU.

In the spring of 2014, Johnson suffered a season-ending ankle injury during spring practice. This year the tailback is healthy and has earned the starting role for the Dukes.

Johnson ran for 33 yards on JMU’s first offensive play of the game.

“There was a lot of nerves just building up to the game — first college game,” Johnson said. “It was really nerve-wracking, but after I got into the flow of things it was coming back to me.”

Johnson capped the drive off with his first career touchdown on a 1-yard run with 9:42 left in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.

That was just the start for the JMU offense. The Dukes set a school-record with 713 yards of total offense. Running backs Johnson and Khalid Abdullah and quarterback Vad Lee each ran for more than 100 yards, marking the first time in program history three players have rushed for more than 100 yards in the same game.

“It just shows the type of camp that we had,” Lee said of the school record for yards in a game. “The type pf preparation we put in all the way from spring ball. Putting pieces together, bringing guys like Aaron Stennie (from the defensive line) to the O-line. We got Matt Frank — that’s a new starter for us up front. Just putting pieces together and just executing.”

The Eagles put together a solid drive on their next possession. They used 12 plays to move the ball to the JMU 4-yard line. However, Morehead State quarterback Austin Gahafer fumbled the ball on second-and-goal after being hit by JMU’s Raven Greene.

JMU linebacker Kyre Hawkins recovered the fumble at the JMU 18.

It didn’t take the Dukes long to take advantage of the turnover. They went 82 yards in just four plays. JMU quarterback Vad Lee ran 66 yards for the touchdown with 3:59 left in the first quarter for a 14-0 edge.

The Dukes extended the lead on the first play of the second quarter. JMU went 87 yards on just eight plays.

Lee connected with junior wide receiver Dominique Taylor early in the drive for a 43-yard gain. Taylor, a transfer from Georgia Military College, finished the drive off with an 11-yard touchdown reception from Lee with 14:54 left in the first half.

“He’s got a lot of big play ability,” JMU head coach Everett Withers said of Taylor. “We just got to keep growing him in our offense and I think he’ll continue to grow. He’s a competitor. He’s going to go up and get the ball if it’s in the air. He’s done that all camp. I expected no less of what he did tonight.”

The Eagles stayed within striking distance with a touchdown late in the first half. Gahafer capped off a nine-play 60-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:01 left in the second quarter to cut the lead to 21-7.

The Dukes answered right back with a quick drive of their own. JMU went 83 yards in 10 plays. Lee threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Deane Cheatham with 30 seconds left in the opening half for a 28-7 lead.

JMU went 78 yards on 13 plays to start the third quarter. Abdullah capped the drive off with a 4-yard touchdown run for a 35-7 lead.

The Dukes held the Eagles to only 52 yards rushing and only 252 yards of total offense on 70 plays.

Warren County graduate and JMU linebacker Gage Steele said he was happy with how the defense performed.

“It felt good,” Steele said. “I felt like we were playing fast out there. That’s one of the main things that we were focusing on — play fast but play focused. Be able to just go out there and play ball.”

Greene led the Dukes with 8.5 tackles. Steele had eight tackles, including six solo.

Lee threw for 297 yards on 18 for 25 passing, and also ran for 105 yards on 13 carries. Strasburg grad and JMU tight end Jonathan Kloosterman had three receptions for 39 yards.

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