The game was over when Latrele Palmer put a punctuation mark on it.
Sure, three quarters were still left in the contest, but there was no way Morehead State could come back after that.
Palmer’s six-yard touchdown run was the third by three different James Madison running backs in the opening stanza, and his pulverizing style of crossing the goal line – in which he bulldozed an opposing linebacker – left Morehead State knocked out.
“Once I saw green, I accelerated,” Palmer said, “and whoever was in my way was going to get the shoulder.”
As JMU coach Curt Cignetti grinned through the screen of the postgame video conference, he said of Palmer’s highlight-reel carry: “I thought it was pretty cool. It was like, ‘Yeah, we’re back.’”
From there, the Dukes continued to cruise on their way to a 52-0 spring-opening shutout of the Eagles on Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium. The contest was JMU’s first since Jan. 11, 2020 when the Dukes fell to North Dakota State in last season’s FCS national championship game.
“It was great,” Cignetti said. “Guys were really focused and excited at the start of the game, and I thought we played really well early.”
Four JMU rushers – sophomores Palmer and Solomon Vanhorse and seniors Jawon Hamilton and Percy Agyei-Obese – all saw regular action in a rotation through the first three quarters ahead of the second-team offense being substituted into the game.
Hamilton began the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown run and Vanhorse followed with a career-long 68-yard sprint into the purple-shaded turf before Palmer polished off the first quarter with his signature punishing power. Palmer and Vanhorse both said the running backs enjoy working alongside each other.
“I got some information from Percy and Jawon before I got in [the game],” Vanhorse said about how his long score developed. “They said the linebackers were slow playing in, that we had to slow-play our read and that when the hole opened that we had to hit it. That’s basically, exactly what happened.”
Agyei-Obese led JMU with 116 rushing yards and as a team the Dukes tallied 369 yards on the ground to go over the 300-yard rushing mark for the fifth time since Cignetti took over as coach before the 2019 season. Hamilton and Palmer each had a pair of rushing scores.
Cignetti said he’d continue using the four backs in a rotation.
“That’s pretty much the plan,” he said. “… We’re trying to keep ‘em fresh and keep hammering fresh guys at people.”
Morehead State (0-1) coach Rob Tenyer said the depth of the Dukes’ backfield makes JMU (1-0) tough to slow down.
“They’ve always had some guys,” Tenyer, who coached against the Dukes twice previously in his career entering Saturday, said. “But now they’ve got some depth. [Hamilton] is pretty darn good and they’ve got some players there.”
While Morehead State couldn’t slow JMU’s rushing attack, the Eagles couldn’t get anything going on offense either.
JMU held Morehead State to 98 total yards to secure the shutout. Safeties Wayne Davis and Que Reid each notched interceptions and linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey had a team-best eight tackles.
The Dukes were breaking in eight new starters on defense.