Defense leads Dukes past Blue Hens

HARRISONBURG – James Madison University’s football team used a strong defensive effort to help break open a close game in the second quarter Saturday.

The Dukes pulled away for a 43-20 Colonial Athletic Association victory over Delaware at Bridgeforth Stadium.

“I’m extremely pleased with our performance out there (Saturday),” JMU head coach Mike Houston said. “I think they’re a top half of the conference team, a top tier team in the CAA. I think they’re going to win a lot of ballgames this year. To come out and play the way we did today is a credit to our staff. It’s a credit to our kids. They played very, very hard.

“To get a win like that in game like this, which is a big-time match-up, this point in the year is just really special.”

Both teams missed a field goal on their opening drive. On JMU’s second drive they took the lead, going 68 yards on five plays.

Two runs by Khalid Abdullah and one by Cardon Johnson moved the ball to the Delaware 28-yard line. JMU quarterback Bryan Schor then connected with John Miller for a 21-yard gain. On the next play Schor scored on a 7-yard touchdown to put the Dukes up 7-0 with three minutes left in the opening quarter.

The Blue Hens responded with a 78-yard drive. Facing a third-and 9 from the JMU 44-yard line, Delaware quarterback Joe Walker completed a 17-yard pass to Jalen Randolph. Two plays later, Wes Hills scored on a 24-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7 with 14:54 left in the first half.

The Dukes responded and took the lead for good with a 75-yard, 10-play drive. Schor scrambled around and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Alls for a 14-7 lead with 10:47 left in the first half.

“The initial route was kind of covered, so I looked back and saw Bryan scrambling,” All said. “So I just knew I had to go to the other side of the end zone for space, and once the ball was in the air I just wanted to make sure I came down with it. The defense kind of played it well. He got his arm in it, so I just tried to keep (the ball) as close as possible and just come down with it.”

JMU’s defense stepped up on the last three drives of the first half, while the Dukes continued to score on offense.

JMU redshirt senior linebacker Gage Steele said that they knew Delaware’s offensive line would be one of the biggest they would see all season, so they had to be physical.

“That was a big thing we were looking at — being as physical as we can, setting the bar physicality wise,” Steele said. “I feel like this was a big thing that helped this defense strive and able to make the plays that people did.”

Abdullah scored on an 8-yard touchdown run with 6:46 left to finish off a six play, 51-yard drive. That gave the Dukes a 20-7 advantage.

On JMU’s final drive of the first half, the Dukes went 56 yards on seven plays. Schor completed an 18-yard pass to tight end Jonathan Kloosterman on the drive for a big chunk of the yardage.

Schor capped the drive off with a 9-yard touchdown run for a 26-7 lead with 2:57 left in the first half.

Schor finished 103 yards on 15 carries for the Dukes.

“I think we had a really good game plan this week, and that’s what allowed me to run the ball well,” Schor said. “I think that’s what made my rushing yards, my carries go up a little bit.”

The Dukes stretched the lead in the second half with back-to-back drives of over 90 yards.

JMU had a six play 98-yard drive, including a 33-yard pas from Schor to Alls. Schor finished the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run with 6:12 left in the third quarter.

On their next drive, JMU went 92 yards on five plays. Abdullah scored on a 41-yard touchdown run with 14:53 left for a 40-7 edge.

The Dukes had 607 yards of total offense. Schor completed 19 of 25 passes for 209 yards.

Abdullah finished with 159 yards on 10 carries.

“The offensive line was paramount,” Abdullah said. “Our focal point was to come out here and win the point of contact, and I think the o-line did that up front. I think they created some running lanes.”

Steele led the Dukes with 11 tackles.

Houston said he expected it to be a closer game than it was, but it shows what the Dukes are capable of when they play well.

“I think we have a chance to be pretty good,” Houston said. “I think that’s what it comes down to. We have a chance to be pretty good when we do the things that good football teams do. Don’t get ahead of ourselves, don’t start thinking that we’ve got it figured out. And just focus on trying to play together, play hard and just go week-to-week, play-to-play. I think that’s what happened out there (Saturday).”

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