In front of a record-setting 25,102 fans at the expanded Bridgeforth Stadium/Zane Showker Field, James Madison held on for its first victory of the season against Central Connecticut State 14-9 on Saturday night.
JMU, ranked 19th nationally in the Sports Network FCS poll, improved to 1-1 as head coach Mickey Matthews won his ninth consecutive home opener. CCSU fell to 1-1 overall.
The Dukes took the early lead with a six-play, 87-yard drive on their second possession as junior quarterback Justin Thorpe (Richmond, Va./Varina) hit junior Jon Sharp (Pittsburgh, Pa./Plum Senior) on a 28-yard pass. That 7-0 lead held until the Blue Devils connected on a 35-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
CCSU then had an opportunity to take the lead, recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. However, the Blue Devils came up three yards short on a fake field goal attempt.
After exchanging possessions, the Dukes finally put the game away with a quick 36-yard drive, culminating in an eight-yard plunge by redshirt sophomore Dae'Quan Scott (Staunton, Va./Robert E. Lee) out of the wildcat formation.
The Blue Devils added a touchdown on the final play of the game with Chris Tolbert scoring on a three-yard rush with the two-point conversion failing.
Scott racked up 145 yards on the ground on 20 carries as the Dukes outrushed the Blue Devils 342-146 with an average of 7.6 yards per rush. Thorpe was 5-for-11 passing with one touchdown and two passes intercepted.
Brian Fowler led the Blue Devils with 95 yards on the ground on 21 carries. Quarterback Gunnar Jespersen was 14-for-33 with two interceptions.
After its first drive ended in an interception, JMU rushed its first five times on its second possession, including 31 yards by redshirt sophomore Jordan Anderson (Chantilly, Va./Westfield). The five runs set the stage for Thorpe's 28-yard strike over the middle to an open Sharp in the endzone.
The Dukes came up empty on their next four first-half possessions. However, they also limited the Blue Devils to 62 total yards in the opening half with all five drives ending in punts.
After holding CCSU to three-and-out on its first possession of the second half, the Dukes put together a 63-yard drive to the one yard line only to see a fumble end the possession.
From that point, JMU tallied just 16 total yards on its next two possessions, leading to the CCSU field goal. After that 10-play, 57-yard drive by the Blue Devils, the Dukes' defense was forced back onto the field with the fumbled kickoff at the 37-yard line.
However, the JMU defense, led by sophomore Stephon Robertson's (Alexandria, Va./Edison) career-high 14 tackles, held off CCSU on the next possession. With the Blue Devils lined up for a 25-yard field goal attempt, Lawton Arnold rushed to the right side on a fake attempt and was tackled out of bounds at the three yard line.
JMU then drove 63 yards past midfield but was forced to punt with 5:12 remaining on the clock. Redshirt junior David Skahn (Centreville, Va./Westfield) pinned CCSU at the five. The record crowd then made itself heard with two false start penalties pushing the Blue Devils back further and forcing them to punt.
That stop set up the Dukes in short field position. Redshirt senior Kerby Long (Arlington, Va./Yorktown) and Scott traded rushes of 11, nine and eight yards before Long's eight-yard rush all but clinched the victory.
CCSU ran the final 3:10 off the clock on a 16-play drive with Tolbert's plunge on the final play of the game.
JMU will be on the road next week, Sept. 17, for a 7 p.m. game at Liberty with a national broadcast on ESPN3.
NOTES: The game was JMU's first home contest following a two-year stadium expansion that raised capacity by approximately 10,000 fans to 24,877... the stadium's previous record attendance was 17,163 in a 35-32 comeback win over Appalachian State on Sept. 20, 2008... Robertson's previous career high for tackles was 12... JMU won despite committing five turnovers compared to two for CCSU... the Dukes led the game in total yardage 389 to 286... the Blue Devils held possession for 32 of the 60 minutes, including 17 of 30 in the second half.