Dukes improve to 5-0 with victory over Seawolves

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s football team made history Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium.

The Dukes got off to a quick start en route to a 38-20 Colonial Athletic Association victory over Stony Brook. The win moved JMU to 5-0 for the first time in program history.

“It’s a special deal,” JMU senior quarterback Vad Lee said. “Being part of history is pretty special, because that’s something that we will always look back upon. When we’re old and washed up, we’ll look back and say we were the first team to go 5-0 in JMU history.”

JMU’s first score was set up by a blocked punt. JMU true freshman Charles Tutt blocked Stony Brook Marc Nolan’s punt giving the Dukes the ball at the Seawolves 41.

The Dukes (5-0, 2-0 CAA) needed only four plays, all runs by Khalid Abdullah to take the lead. Abdullah’s 16-yard touchdown run with 10:07 left in the first quarter put the Dukes up 7-0.

“Offensive line had a good push in the first half, and we were looking to establish (the run) and we did,” Abdullah said. “So, that was a good thing.

JMU went 90 yards on its next drive, with Abdullah having the big play. The junior ran for 69 yards on third-and-12 from the JMU 8. Five plays later, Lee scored on a 9-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 edge with 5:19 left in the opening quarter.

JMU’s defense forced Stony Brook into three-and-out on its first three possessions.

“That’s what we always strive to do,” JMU redshirt junior linebacker Gage Steele said. “Three-and-outs are a big momentum changer. It stops the offense from getting into any type of rhythm. Ultimately, we give the ball back to our offense, which is what we strive to do all the time.”

The Dukes extended the lead late in the first quarter. JMU junior Taylor Reynolds intercepted a pass by Stony Brook quarterback Joe Carbone at the Stony Brook 45-yard line.

Cardon Johnson carried the ball four consecutive times. His 1-yard touchdown run put the Dukes up 21-0 with 44 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Seawolves (2-2, 1-2 CAA) scored quickly on the next possession. A 70-yard pass from Conor Bednarski to tight end Cal Daniels moved the ball to the JMU 18-yard line. On the next play, Bednarski connected with Steve Marino for an 18-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 21-7 on the final play of the first quarter.

The Dukes came right back on the next possession. They drove 80 yards on 11 plays. Abdullah capped the drive off with a 1-yard touchdown run for a 28-7 lead with 11:46 left in the first half.

JMU had 392 yards of offense in the first half, but things changed in the second half. The Dukes had only 127 yards and were outscored 13-10 by Stony Brook.

“I feel like we have to finish better,” Lee said. “…We want to be able to finish better. I think we lost a little focus in the second half.”

Abdullah finished with 114 rushing yards on 17 carries, while Lee had 91 and Johnson had 87. Lee threw for 225 yards on 19 for 29 passing. Steele, a Warren County graduate, led the Dukes on defense with a career-high 18 tackles.

JMU coach Everett Withers said he was a little concerned going into the game. JMU knocked off Football Bowl Subdivision Southern Methodist University last week, bringing some extra attention to JMU. The Dukes also had limited practice time this week due to the weather, and Stony Brook was one of the top-ranked defensive teams in Football Championship Subdivision.

“I was a nervous wreck all week,” Withers said. “I was a nervous wreck and I was not very nice to our football team this week because of that. I think our kids came out and played well early and they may have took a deep sigh of relief at halftime, which we try to not have them do but they’re 18-to-22 year olds.

“We know we have a lot of work to do. I love winning and having work to do.”

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