HARRISONBURG — James Madison University is headed back to Frisco, Texas.
JMU forced 10 turnovers, and dominated the second half en route to a 51-16 victory over South Dakota State University in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals on Saturday. The top-seeded Dukes will play No. 2 seed North Dakota State in the FCS National Championship game on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas.
“What a great night for JMU football and all of our university and all of our fans and alumni and everyone that was here (Saturday),” JMU head football coach Mike Houston said. “To have a semifinal game back here at Bridgeforth Stadium was a great setting. For our team to go out and compete the way it did certainly gives us a special memory and a special night that our staff and players and everyone associated with the program will remember for a long, long time.”
It was JMU’s 26th straight win and gives the Dukes a chance to defend its national title.
Things couldn’t have started off much better for JMU’s defense in the first quarter against South Dakota State.
The Dukes forced five turnovers in the opening quarter.
On South Dakota State’s second possession of the game, JMU’s Darrious Carter forced a fumble, which was recovered by teammate Brandon Hereford at the Jackrabbits’ 6-yard line. Carter had two sacks and two forced fumbles in the game.
“I didn’t even know it was a fumble at all until I heard the ball (hit the ground),” Carter said. “I was just trying to sack the quarterback, trying to get to the quarterback as fast as possible.”
Three plays later, JMU senior quarterback Bryan Schor completed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Riley Stapleton for a 7-0 JMU lead with 7:40 left in the first quarter.
The Dukes forced and recovered three fumbles and intercepted two passes in the first 15 minutes of the game. However, the Dukes lead was only 7-0 after the first quarter.
“The thing is in the first quarter we had five (turnovers) and it was still only 7-0,” Houston said. “So you worry, have we kind of missed our chances right there.”
The Jackrabbits (11-3) tied the game early in the second quarter. They went 74 yards on eight plays.
South Dakota State capped the drive off with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Taryn Christion to Jake Wieneke with 11:58 left in the first half.
The Dukes (14-0) responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive of their own. Schor connected once again with Stapleton for a 15-yard touchdown pass and a 14-7 lead with 8:12 remaining in the first half.
South Dakota State came right back with a seven-minute, 16-second drive. The Jackrabbits went 55 yards on 14 plays, but had to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Chase Vinatieri with 56 seconds left in the half.
However, the Dukes weren’t done in the first half. JMU’s Marcus Marshall returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the JMU 42-yard line. The Dukes went 58 yards on five plays. Schor scored on a 1-yard run with nine seconds left in the first half for a 21-10 JMU lead.
“That was one of the best drives of the year,” Houston said. “Just the way we executed, used our timeouts, were able to make the plays when we needed it. And then after the last timeout, Bryan (Schor) said that they weren’t covering the center, let’s try to sneak it right there. And we were able to punch it in right there before the half. That was a big score.”
The Dukes extended the lead to start the second half. A 65-yard touchdown run by Marshall with 14:04 left in the third quarter gave the Dukes a 28-10 edge.
Marshall had another touchdown run, an 87-yarder, on JMU’s next possession to put the game out of reach.
“It was kind of just like last week,” Marshall said. “O-line opened it up for me. I just pretty much had to worry about not getting caught.”
Marshall finished with 203 rushing yards on 15 carries. JMU ran for 257 yards and threw for 206 yards.
Schor completed 18-of-25 pass attempts for 203 yards and two scores.
The Dukes held the Jackrabbits to just 44 yards in the third quarter. JMU had 244 total yards in the third quarter.
JMU had six interceptions in the game, three by Jimmy Moreland, two by Jordan Brown and one by Raven Greene. With his interception, Greene broke the school career record for interceptions (14). Greene returned the record-breaking interception 59 yards for a touchdown in a 30-point JMU third quarter.
“I feel like it speaks more volumes on the actual defense, because it’s a team sport at the end of the day,” Greene said of his record. “And the guys up front really do a lot for us in the backend. Just look at Jordan (Brown) having all these interceptions this year, Jimmy (Moreland), Rashad (Robinson). Everybody’s been doing great. So I feel like it’s a team thing. So I give it out to the rest of the guys too.”
JMU senior tight end Jonathan Kloosterman said it’s a special feeling to be able to go back to Frisco for another national championship game.
“Having the opportunity to go there once was amazing, but being able to go there twice junior and senior year — it’s just exciting,” Kloosterman said. “I can’t wait. Hopefully, we end it like we did last year.”