Dukes confident in all of their quarterbacks

HARRISONBURG — Throughout the season James Madison University football coach Mike Houston has been saying that freshman Cole Johnson is the future at quarterback. The future may be now for the Dukes.

In last week’s win over Villanova, starting quarterback Bryan Schor suffered an injury on the first play of the second quarter. Johnson entered the game, ending his redshirt, and helped lead the Dukes to victory.

Houston said he’s not sure if Schor will be able to play this week against Elon, but if he can’t play he’s confident with Johnson. He said Johnson did a good job in the second half after overcoming some early nerves.

“He made the right checks, got us in the right plays,” Houston said on Tuesday. “He had some nice completions. I hate that he had his (9-yard) touchdown run (in the fourth quarter) called back, because it was a correct read and a great run by him. But he ended up leading us to a touchdown on that drive anyway. We feel very comfortable with his performance.”

The 6-foot-5 Johnson finished the game 5-for-12 for 43 yards. It was the second straight year that the Dukes have had their starting quarterback go down with an injury late in the season. Last year 2016 JMU graduate Vad Lee suffered a season-ending injury and was replaced by Schor.

JMU redshirt senior offensive lineman Mitch Kirsch said that he thought about the injury to Lee when he saw Schor suffer his injury.

“Once it happened I kind of looked over at (fellow offensive linemen) Matt Frank and (Aaron) Stinnie and said it must be a curse or something,” Kirsch said. “It happened to Vad last year. It happened to Bryan this year. But Cole’s a helluva quarterback He’s young, but we know (Offensive coordinator) coach K (Donnie Kirkpatrick) will get him right.”

Schor has thrown for 2,026 yards this season and 18 tocuhdowns. He leads the Football Championship Subdivision in completion percentage (73.2).

Kirsch said that the offensive line will be motivated to do even better when Schor is not on the field.

“We’re taking more pride in this game and games where Bryan’s not going to be back for, because we know that we have to block our butts off for Cole,” Kirsch said. “We got to make sure he’s as calm as possible, he has as much time as possible in the pocket.”

Houston said that Johnson has a very strong arm and some great intangibles.

“I think he throws the ball about as well as any young quarterback I’ve been around,” Houston said of Johnson. “He has lots of intangibles. He has very good feet. He’s faster than most people think. He has a photographic memory. He’s a 4.0 student. So he’s got a lot of intangibles there, but he throws the ball very, very well.”

Schor won a quarterback battle in the preseason over University of South Carolina transfer Connor Mitch. During JMU’s bye week, several weeks ago, Mitch suffered a non-football related injury according to Houston. Houston said that he’s not sure when Mitch will return.

JMU also has walk-on redshirt sophomore quarterback Hunter Etheridge. The 6-foot-3 Etheridge has played in two games this season, but has not completed a pass in two attempts.

Houston said he had a similar type thing occur when he coached at Lenoir-Rhyne. He said that team advanced all the way to the Division II National Championship game with three different quarterbacks.

The Dukes have already clinched a playoff berth, and have a good chance of having a first-round bye in the playoffs. He said that no matter who the quarterback is he feels confident with them.

“We have a very good football team and the next guy will be ready,” Houston said. “And certainly the encouraging thing for us is that Bryan’s going to be back pretty quickly. Connor Mitch is going to be back pretty quickly, and we have a lot of confidence in Cole Johnson. So we feel good about our opportunities moving forward.”

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

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