HARRISONBURG — James Madison University left no doubt about which team is the best in the Colonial Athletic Association this season.
The Dukes scored early and cruised to a 26-7 victory over Stony Brook on Saturday in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Stony Brook finished second behind JMU in the CAA this season, but did not play the Dukes during the regular season.
“I’m very pleased with the way our team has prepared the last couple of weeks coming into this ballgame,” JMU head football coach Mike Houston said. “And I thought that preparation was demonstrated by the way they played (Saturday), and very pleased with the effort on all there phases. And really other than just one drive for a few minutes there defensively in the fourth quarter, it was a dominant performance all the way around, all day long, against a team that I consider to be one of the better teams in the tournament.”
The Dukes (12-0) had big plays in all three phases of the game.
On the opening drive of the game, it was the offense that shined. JMU went 74 yards on eight plays, six of which were passes. JMU took advantage of Stony Brook’s defense by throwing a lot of short passes to the perimeter.
JMU senior quarterback Bryan Schor capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to junior running back Trai Sharp for a 6-0 lead with 12:21 left in the first quarter.
It was only the second time this season that the Dukes scored a touchdown on their opening drive. Schor said it was a big momentum boost for the whole team.
“Whenever we can get off to a fast start I think it boosts our energy,” Schor said. “When we can put points on the board early and give our defense some confidence to go out and just attack the other team’s offense I think that helps us as well.”
JMU’s defense didn’t need much more than the opening touchdown. JMU held Stony Brook to just 156 yards of offense through the first three quarters of the game.
JMU’s defense helped set-up several of the Dukes’ scores. JMU redshirt senior safety Jordan Brown intercepted a pass by Stony Brook quarterback Joe Carbone at the Stony Brook 28-yard line with 10:36 left in the first half.
“I just jumped a route and saw it right there and took advantage of it,” Brown said.
It was one of five JMU interceptions on the day. Houston said the pressure JMU was able to put on Carbone, who missed a few plays after taking a hit early in the game, helped lead to some of the interceptions. He said Carbone wasn’t stepping into some of his throws, because he was trying to make sure he avoided a hit.
Four plays later, JMU’s Ethan Ratke kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 9-0 lead with 9:19 left in the opening half.
Later in the first half it was a special teams play that led to more JMU points. JMU redshirt freshman D’Angelo Amos returned a punt 49 yards to the Stony Brook 23. Amos was filling in for senior John Miller, who was injured early in the game.
“I just wanted to catch the ball and get (the offense) in good field position,” Amos said. “And when I caught it and looked around, and I had room to run and I got what I can.”
The Dukes, who have now won 23 consecutive games, took advantage of the field position. They went 23 yards on six plays with Schor connecting with wide receiver Terrence Alls for a 1-yard touchdown pass and a 16-0 lead with 1:53 left in the first half.
Alls finished with 10 receptions for 94 yards to lead JMU’s receivers. Alls said the fact that Stony Brook was playing man-to-man against JMU’s wide receivers helped them be able to make plays in the passing game.
“We watched the film, since we were in one-on-one match-ups we just felt like we could dominate,” Alls said. “So it was our opportunity, we made the most of it. And Bryan (Schor) gave us the opportunities and we just did what we had to do.”
The Dukes weren’t done scoring in the first half as yet another interception led to points. JMU junior cornerback Curtis Oliver made a diving catch for an interception at the Stony Brook 26 with one minute left.
A 20-yard field goal by Ratke gave the Dukes a 19-0 halftime lead.
Schor threw for 255 yards on 26-for-35 passing and two touchdowns. JMU senior running back Taylor Woods had a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to finish out JMU’s scoring.
The Seawolves scored on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Carbone to Harrison Jackson in the fourth quarter.
JMU, the reigning FCS national champions, will play Weber State University in the FCS quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday.
JMU redshirt senior offensive lineman and Millbrook graduate A.J. Bolden said that the team needs to take the momentum from the win over Stony Brook and build on it.
“We know that we can go ahead celebrate this win, but then come back (Sunday) and understand that we have to go on to the next one,” Bolden said. “It’s a short turnaround. And let’s go ahead and use it as a building block and launching pad to propel us onto the next game.”