Dukes receive championship rings after spring football game

HARRISONBURG — Three months ago James Madison University won its second Football Championship Subdivision National Championship in school history. On Saturday the Dukes had one last celebration and added some bling to their accomplishment.

The Dukes received their National Championship rings after the spring football game Saturday afternoon at Bridgeforth Stadium.

“What a special day for JMU,” JMU head coach Mike Houston said. “We got to see a glimpse of the 2017 JMU Dukes today. We got to reflect back a little bit and have our graduating seniors back with us to receive the National Championship rings today. What a special scene and a special moment not only for those kids on the field, but for their families, and that’s something that none of them will ever forget.”

The offense played the defense in the spring game with the defense coming out on top, 53-39. The teams played with a revised scoring system to give the defense an opportunity to score points for stats such as sacks, tackles for loss and pass breakups. The game was played with a running clock. They played for four 12-minute quarters and had a 10-minute halftime.

Once the game was over, the players were handed their rings and Houston said a few words to the crowd. All the players then put their rings on together as the song “We are the Champions” by Queen was played in the background.

“Opening that (ring) box was breathtaking and exhilarating,” JMU safety Jordan Brown said. “It just brought back all the memories that we had this year, and this (ring) will be on the finger for a while.”

Brown had a couple of the big highlights from the spring game.

In the third quarter, Jimmy Moreland blocked an attempted field goal by Ethan Ratke and Brown scooped up the ball and went 69 yards for a touchdown.

Later in the quarter Brown intercepted a pass by backup quarterback Cole Johnson and returned it 23 yards.

“It was a corner blitz coming off the edge so all I had to do was read (Johnson’s) eyes and took it where I needed to go,” Brown said. “(JMU defensive coordinator Bob) Trott with the scheme put us there in the perfect spot.”

The offense led 37-31 late in the third quarter, but the defense dominated in the fourth quarter for the victory.

JMU’s defense also had an interception each from Adam Smith and D’Angelo Amos.

Linebacker Gus Little, a transfer from the University of Maryland, led the defense with six tackles and a fumble recovery and freshman defensive lineman Marcus Hawkins had five.

“I thought we looked good on both sides of the ball,” Little said. “I thought the offense was executing, the defense was too. Everybody was on the same page. I thought we looked really good.”

Several players did not play in the game due to various injuries, including Strasburg graduate and JMU tight end Jonathan Kloosterman and Millbrook graduate and JMU starting placekicker Tyler Gray. Skyline graduate Gerren Butler saw plenty of time on the offensive line, including starting with the first team as did Millbrook graduate A.J. Bolden.

Tight end Nick Carlton had one of the top catches of the day as he made a one-handed grab on a pass from starting quarterback Bryan Schor in the second quarter.

“We thought the defense jumped offsides, but they didn’t, so it was fourth down so I had to let somebody try to make a play,” Schor said. “I threw the ball up and that’s exactly what Nick Carlton did — he made a great play.”

Running back Marcus Marshall scored the first touchdown of the game, showing off his game-breaking speed, with a 50-yard run. Marshall, transferred from Georgia Tech in December, after leading the Yellow Jackets in rushing yards the last two seasons.

“It felt good,” Marshall said of the touchdown. “That’s a play that we run a lot in practice. It’s something that the O-line did a great job blocking, as they had in practice. So I knew it was going to be there. It felt good to get all that open space and just do my thing.”

Marshall finished with 86 yards on 12 carries to lead the running game. Schor finished 8-for-17 for 71 yards and one interception.

Backup quarterback Hunter Etheridge was 7-for-15 for 118 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. Wide receiver led the receivers with three catches for 62 yards.

“I think there’s definitely some things we need to do better,” Schor said. “There’s definitely some things we saw today that we need to improve on. I think our defense did a good job today. So credit to them for doing a good job today.”

The Dukes ended up with 398 yards of total offense, 151 rushing and 247 passing.

JMU will have its last practice of the spring on Tuesday.

While the spring game is mostly used to help improve the players and to put on a show in front of the fans, the players also had a little extra motivation for the game.

“The winner gets to have a good meal after practice on Tuesday, and the loser might have a cold hot dog,” Little said with a smile. “So it was some good motivation, while we were out there playing — who’s going to get the good meal, whose going to get the hot dogs.”

“Rumor is we’re getting some lobsters,” Brown said with a laugh. “So hopefully that will be coming soon.”

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