Dukes ready to face Seawolves in playoffs

HARRISONBURG –James Madison University went through a tough Colonial Athletic Association regular season without a blemish. Today, the Dukes face one more CAA foe — this time with the season on the line.

The Dukes host Stony Brook in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs at 2 p.m., today.

JMU head football coach Mike Houston said that he doesn’t like playing a CAA team so early in the postseason, and it will be a tough challenge for the Dukes.

“I think Stony Brook is one of the best, if not the best team, on our side of the bracket,” Houston said. “So you certainly don’t want to see them in the second round. …I think it will be a tremendous challenge for us, and it should be an exciting football game.”

The Dukes did not face the Seawolves, who finished second in the CAA behind JMU this season, in the regular season. Stony Brook beat Lehigh, 59-29, in the first round of the playoffs last week.

Mike Houston

Stony Brook is averaging 31.1 points and 354.5 yards per game this season.

The Seawolves primarily use three different running backs. Stacey Bedell has rushed for 776 yards and eight touchdowns. Donald Liotine has 694 rushing yards and 10 scores, while Jordan Gowins has 391 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

JMU redshirt senior defensive lineman Simeyon Robinson said having to stop three different running backs can be challenging.

“They got somebody coming in that’s fresh all the time,” Robinson said. “They’re physical runners. They’re going to come ready to play. We got to be ready to play as well. It doesn’t matter who’s in there at running back, we just got to be ready to stop them.”

The Seawolves also have plenty of depth at wide receiver. They are led by Ray Bolden (66 receptions for 780 yards and nine TD’s), but he missed last week’s game due to injury and may not play against the Dukes.

Stony Brook wide receiver Harrison Jackson has 30 catches for 491 yards and six scores, while Donavin Washington has 38 receptions for 345 yards and four touchdowns. Stony Brook wide receiver Cal Daniels has 23 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Houston said that Stony Brook wide receiver Andrew Trent filled in nicely for Bolden last weekend.

“Trent filled in last week and he’s a clone of Jackson,” Houston said. “He’s tall, rangy. And all those guys, in one-on-one matchups if they beat that one guy it’s over. Just like we saw last week against Lehigh.”

Stony Brook quarterback Joe Carbone has also put up very impressive numbers this season. Carbone has thrown for 2,263 yards on 189-for-327 passing with 22 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

Houston said the junior has really improved over the last few years.

“He’s much like our quarterback,” Houston said. “He’s a seasoned veteran playing at a very, very high level. He has good players around him. And his performance (today) and how he handles everything, and the same thing for (JMU quarterback) Bryan (Schor), that’s probably going to dictate our offense and how their offense executes (today).”

The Seawolves are just as strong defensively. They are allowing just 20.2 points and 328.2 yards per contest.

Houston said facing Stony Brook’s defense will definitely be a challenge.

“Their size up front is obviously going to be a big challenge,” Houston said. “Their linebackers all run very well. They’ll be primarily in a four-down front, but you’ll see some three-down front. When they’re in that odd front most of the time they’re moving and bringing linebackers or a down safety or somebody like that on pressure. They’re very, very aggressive. Their back end reminds me a lot of our back end. They’re athletic, they can cover, they can play, man. They can tackle. They’re physical tacklers.”

The Dukes are averaging 35.9 points and 429.8 yards per game. JMU’s offense has played some of its best football at the end of the season, scoring over 30 points in two of the last three games.

JMU senior quarterback Bryan Schor has thrown for 2,257 yards and 21 touchdowns this season.

Trai Sharp has led the running game, with 137 carries for 686 yards and four scores. JMU wide receivers Terrence Alls and John Miller each have 33 receptions to lead the Dukes.

JMU finished the regular season with the No. 1 ranked defense in Football Championship Subdivision. The Dukes are allowing just nine points and 228.2 yards per game.

Senior linebacker Kyre Hawkins leads the Dukes with 78 tackles and seven sacks this season.

Houston said he expects the game to be like most of JMU’s games have been this season in the CAA.

“It’s going to be a typical postseason football game,” Houston said. “Two top-notch defenses, two physical teams that are going to be trying to run the football. I would imagine it’s going to be a very close football game. And one that will come down to the same thing all games this time of the year come down too — and that’s being able to run the ball, stop the run, turnovers and field position.”