Dukes facing tough Maine squad to start CAA play

Bryan Schor

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University football head coach Mike Houston said the University of Maine gave the Dukes one of their toughest games last season. He said he expects more of the same when the two teams meet today at Bridgeforth Stadium at 1:30 p.m.

Houston said he remembers last year’s 31-20 victory over Maine very well. The Dukes trailed going into the fourth quarter and rallied to pull out the win on the road.

“You go into the fourth quarter with Maine leading and you’re struggling and you’re wondering if you have any chance to win that game,” Houston said of last year’s game. “I think it showed a lot of resiliency in our kids last year to be able to come from behind to win that game up there. But I think it’s also a credit to what kind of program they have. You’re going to see the exact same kind of game this year because they’re a very talented football team.”

The Black Bears (1-1, 0-1 CAA) only loss this season came to the University of New Hampshire, by one point, in a Colonial Athletic Association contest.

Maine’s offense is averaging 41.5 points and 444 yards per game.

Kyre Hawkins

Maine running back Josh Mack leads the Football Championship Subdivision averaging 179 rushing yards per game.

“He’s a big, strong runner,” Houston said of Mack. “You get behind that big offensive line. You get those tight ends and fullbacks in there. And he does a good job of being patient and finding the holes and running behind his pads. And he’s going to be a load to bring down (today). He fits the rest of their offense. And he’s an outstanding player in that scheme.”

Maine redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Ferguson has thrown for 389 yards and six touchdowns. Wide receiver Jared Osumah has eight catches for 114 yards, while Earnest Edwards has four receptions for 66 yards and two scores.

Hosuton said that Ferguson is the only player on offense who didn’t play last year for the Black Bears.

“He’s a redshirt freshman, but he certainly doesn’t play like a redshirt freshman,” Houston said of Ferguson. “He’s very poised. I think he’s done a good job managing the game. He does a good job of taking care of the football, distributing the football where it needs to go. When you watch him operate he looks like an older player.”

Maine head coach Joe Harasymiak is in his second year and led the Black Bears to a 6-5 record last year.

Maine is allowing just 18 points and 365 yards per contest.

Houston said Maine’s defense reminds him a lot of JMU’s defense.

“They’re very physical. It’s a solid scheme,” Houston said. “That’s why I say they are built very much the way we have tried to build our program here. So you’re going to see two teams that are really going to be like two rams kind of butting heads. It’s going to be one of those things where it’s both of them going right at each other. So it’s going to be hard going (today).”

JMU is averaging 589.3 yards and 53.7 points per game this season. They are ranked in the top three in FCS in both categories.

The Dukes are led by senior quarterback Bryan Schor, who has thrown for 657 yards on 54-for-73 passing with eight touchdowns. Schor also has 128 yards rushing and two scores.

Redshirt senior running back Cardon Johnson is out for the year after suffering a lower right leg injury last week in a 75-14 win over Norfolk State. However, the Dukes have plenty of depth at running back.

Junior Trai Sharp, whose father died during the game last week, is expected to play today. Sharp has 168 yards rushing on 19 carries this season. Marcus Marshall has 183 yards rushing on 31 carries and three touchdowns for the Dukes.

David Eldridge leads the receivers with 12 receptions for 150 yards and one touchdown. Senior John Miller has 10 receptions for 126 yards and a score.

The Dukes are only allowing 12.7 points and 209.3 yards per game. Redshirt senior linebacker Kyre Hawkins leads the defense with 21 tackles.

Houston said the Dukes will be wearing a sticker on the back of their helmets the rest of the season in honor of Ron Carrier, who died Monday. Carrier was JMU’s President from 1971-98.

Maine had a bye last week, and Houston said he expects them to be well-prepared for the game against the Dukes.

“I know they’ll be very motivated,” Houston said. “Joe (Harasymiak) will do a great job with his roster. They play very, very hard for him. That’s a credit to him as a young coach.”