Dukes remain undefeated with rout over Spartans
HARRISONBURG –A great win took a somber turn for James Madison University’s football team on Saturday.
The Dukes cruised to a 75-14 victory over Norfolk State University, but JMU junior running back Trai Sharp received bad news. Sharp was informed during the fourth quarter that his father had died.
“It wasn’t a real big celebration in our locker room,” said a teary-eyed JMU coach Mike Houston. “But I just wanted to say that Trai found out during the game and our thoughts and our prayers are with his family. And we look forward to him working through this and we’ll all be right beside him.”
Houston said that Sharp’s father has been battling an illness for about a month.
Sharp had a big day on the field as he ran for 130 yards on nine carries. He also caught three passes for 45 yards and had two total touchdowns.
“I’m really proud of Trai,” Houston said. “He is a tremendous young man. And he had a great day today, and he’s having a tough day today.”
Sharp saw more playing time in the game in part because redshirt senior starting running back Cardon Johnson suffered an injury in the second quarter.
Houston said he didn’t the extent of Johnson’s injury. Johnson missed the last five games of last season due to a torn achilles.
JMU junior running back Marcus Marshall said that when Johnson went down with the injury the other running backs just wanted to step up and play harder.
“As running backs we felt like we had to play for him,” Marshall said. “It was a tough time for him. So we felt like we was just going to go out there and do it for him.”
After turning the ball over on their first possession, the Dukes took the lead on their second drive and didn’t look back.
JMU (3-0) went 66 yards on seven plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 9-yard touchdown run by Marshall.
It was JMU’s special teams that extended the lead in the first quarter.
JMU’s Bryce Maginley blocked a punt by Norfolk State’s Taylor Goettie for a safety with 3:01 left in the opening quarter.
“Coach called the blitz. My man on the shield picked up (JMU’s) Jimmy (Moreland) and I came free,” Maginley said. “So coach always says you never know whose going to come free. And I’m the one who came free and I ended up blocking the punt.”
On the ensuing possession, JMU quarterback Bryan Schor capped off an 11-play, 66-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run for a 16-0 lead.
The Spartans’ defense scored to cut the lead to 16-7 with 10:45 left in the first half. Norfolk State’s Nhyre Quinerly recovered a Schor fumble and returned it 33 yards for the score.
Schor made up for the mistake on the next drive. JMU went 63 yards on six plays. Schor connected with John Miller for a 29-yard touchdown pass and a 23-7 lead with 8:44 left in the opening half.
Johnson suffered his injury on the drive. With Johnson out, Sharp took over for the remainder of the first half. Sharp scored both of his touchdowns in the last 4:22 of the first half as the Dukes took control of the game.
“Trai was just doing what Trai does,” Marshall said of Sharp. “He was just running hard. He was being physical and I was really proud of the way he played. He had a great game.”
JMU tight end Jonathan Kloosterman started the game, his first after serving a two-game suspension for violation of team rules. The 2014 Strasburg graduate caught a 22-yard pass on the second play of the game and finished with two receptions for 30 yards.
The Dukes finished with 728 yards of offense, just one yard shy of the school record. The Dukes ran for 472 yards.
The JMU defense held the Spartans to just 43 yards rushing and 91 total yards. It was a JMU record for margin of total yards. It was JMU’s 15th straight win.
Houston said Sharp means a lot to the team on and off the field.
“I’m proud of him, the way he went out and played today,” Houston said. “And I’m even more proud of the way he carries himself on a daily basis. He’s an important part of our program. Not just because of the way he plays, but because of the kind of person he is.”