CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Just as quickly as Chattanooga showed it could hang, D’Angelo Amos dashed the Mocs’ hopes of an upset.
The James Madison junior safety’s third-quarter interception ruined his opponent’s trip to the red zone and helped the No. 2 Dukes secure a 37-14 win over Chattanooga in their non-conference finale on Saturday at Finley Stadium.
“I think it was huge,” Amos said. “For our defense if we hold ‘em to a field goal, that’s great, but to hold ‘em to no points, that’s big.”
Amos snagged the pass that Mocs quarterback Nick Tiano had ticketed for six with his home team trailing by nine. A touchdown there plus an extra point would’ve cut JMU’s edge to two points.
It was the first-career interception for Amos, who returned the ball 22 yards and set the Dukes up for their separating score.
“I read his eyes and his eyes were in the boundary,” Amos said. “I knew [Mocs wide receiver Reginald Henderson] was over there, a guy they had been going to all game in the boundary, so I originally played that. But when I saw [Tiano’s] eyes come back, I just played that. … He had to throw a risky throw and when I saw him throw it, I took advantage of the opportunity.”
First-year JMU coach Curt Cignetti said: “Play of the game because if they go down there and score a touchdown, then it’s really a ball game.”
What turned Amos’ interception into a 14-point swing was the Dukes’ quick ability to capitalize on it.
JMU quarterback Ben DiNucci threw a quick-hitch pass to wide receiver Brandon Polk, who sprinted past the defense for a 48-yard touchdown and extended Madison’s advantage to 30-14 with less than four minutes left in the third quarter. Running back Percy Agyei-Obese, who rushed for a game-high 114 yards, carried for his second touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give JMU the score it would win by.
“That interception was big,” Agyei-Obese said, “because it actually stopped their momentum down near the end zone and we were excited as an offense to get back on the field.”
Amos said his priority in any game is to make sure he’s doing whatever he can to let the JMU offense have extra possessions and that he was happy he was able to do so on Saturday.
Earlier this season he was frustrated with himself for muffing a punt – in his punt-return role – at West Virginia after he and the rest of the defense forced the Mountaineers’ offense off the field during the Dukes’ Week 1 loss.
“I just want to do my job,” Amos said. “And at the end of the day that means more to me than a return because it’s not about me. It’s about getting the ball to our offense and getting them rolling and giving them momentum, and it also rewards out defense as well when I can make sure the offense gets the ball, so we get a break and we don’t have to come back on the field.
“So the special teams stuff is a bonus to me, but this year my focus is to let everyone know that my job at safety was kind of overlooked with the punt returns and that’s fine, but I wanted to let everyone know I’m good at what I do at safety as well.”
Amos finished with three tackles, the interception and a pass breakup to aid JMU in its victory over Chattanooga.
The additional offensive possession helped the Dukes outgain Chattanooga 532 total yards to 245 total yards.
JMU (3-1) scored on its first two series of the contest, but the Mocs (1-3) evened the score with two touchdowns in the final minute of the first quarter. Tiano threw a touchdown pass to Chris James and then the Dukes fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which led to a 2-yard touchdown run for Tiano.
“All of a sudden, there’s adversity,” Cignetti said. “It’s good to be in a position like that and see how your team responds.”