Passing game, defense spark Dukes to victory

HARRISONBURG — East Tennessee State took away James Madison University’s running game on Saturday night. However, the Dukes’ passing game and defense rose to the occasion.

The Dukes built an early lead and cruised to a 52-10 victory in their home opener.

“I’m very proud of the way our team went out and competed (Saturday),” JMU coach Mike Houston said. “East Tennessee was exactly what I thought they would be. They were an extremely disciplined, well-coached, physical, hard-nosed, football team. … We were challenged all night long. They were doing some things schematically there that really gave us a hard time and we had to adjust. I’m proud of the way our kids adjusted. I’m proud of the way they played.”

The main thing the Dukes had to adjust to was East Tennessee State stacking the box to slow down JMU’s run game. The Buccaneers typically had eight near the line of scrimmage, which left JMU with one-on-one coverage for its wide receivers.

The Dukes were held to just 122 rushing yards on 39 carries. JMU senior quarterback Bryan Schor and the receivers took advantage of their opportunities.

“I think when you see people stack the box and add a little bit more people to the run, you get a lot of opportunities out wide,” Schor said. “And guys like Riley (Stapleton), Ish (Hyman) David Eldridge flourish when they get one-on-one coverage. So if someone is going to give us one-on-one coverage we expect those guys to go out and make plays.”

Schor completed 25 of his 33 pass attempts for 304 yards and five touchdowns.

Stapleton finished with a game-high eight catches for 64 yards and two scores. Hyman had six receptions for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Eldridge had six receptions for 80 yards and one touchdown.

The Dukes (2-0) scored on their first possession. They drove 75 yards on eight plays with Schor finding Hyman for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 12:24 left in the opening quarter.

It was more of the same in the opening quarter as the Dukes scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions.

A 5-yard touchdown run by Cardon Johnson capped a four-play, 14-yard drive. The possession was set-up by an interception by JMU’s Jimmy Moreland off a tipped pass by teammate Darrious Carter.

JMU’s defense was solid throughout the game. The Dukes held East Tennessee State to only 57 yards rushing and 175 total yards.

“From the start of the game we wanted to put an emphasis on being strong at the point of contact and dominating up front,” Carter said. “And I think we did a decent job of stopping the run. I think we played really well as a defensive line and as a defense as whole.”

Schor again connected with Hyman for a touchdown pass with 5:14 left in the first quarter.

JMU put together a 16-play, 93-yard drive in the second quarter. Schor threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Stapleton with 6:06 left in the first half for a 28-0 edge.

The two connected twice during the game for touchdowns and both were back-shoulder fade passes, which both said they work on a lot during the week.

“It’s something Riley’s good at,” Schor said. “Obviously, he’s a big guy, big target. He responds well to an outside ball. So we definitely worked it enough, and I guess we definitely saw the results of it tonight.”

The Buccaneers (1-1) were able to score late in the first half on a 33-yard interception return by Dominique Williams with 1:11 left in the second quarter.

The Dukes stretched the lead to 35-7 early in the second half. John Miller returned a punt 41 yards for the touchdown with 13:18 left in the third quarter.

Defensively, Jordan Brown had six tackles to lead the Dukes.

The Dukes were 10-for-15 on third-down conversions, while the Buccaneers were just 5-for-15.

It was JMU’s first home game since winning the Football Championship Subdivision national title in January. Schor said it was a special feeling playing in Bridgeforth Stadium again.

“I think it was unique,” Schor said. “One of the things coach Houston talked to us about is we haven’t played at home in 247 days. And when you think about it that’s a really long time. To be back here in Harrisonburg with JMU Nation, and our fans even showing up before the game, seeing people tailgating, it was really nice to get back out in front of our home (fans).”