NEWARK, Del.- No. 14 James Madison was unable to overcome two short field situations resulting in Delaware second-half touchdowns and fell to the host Blue Hens, 29-22, in the Colonial Athletic Association opener for both teams. With the loss, the Dukes fell to 3-2 on the year while the Blue Hens advanced to 4-1.
Leading 19-7 in the third quarter, Madison gave up two straight drives starting on JMU’s own 15-yard line to Delaware, the first set up by a long kick return and the second on a blocked Connor Arnone punt. The Blue Hens converted both into touchdowns to take a 22-19 lead, with the second an 8-yard touchdown pass from Trent Hurley to Nick Broyles who connected again for the two-point conversion to take the lead.
The Dukes rallied with an eight-play, 65-yard drive but the drive stalled at the 11-yard line. Madison was forced to settle for a 28-yard field goal from Cameron Starke to tie the game at 22 with 11:35 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Delaware responded on its ensuing possession by going on an 11-play, 75-yard march that ended with 4-yard touchdown pass from Hurley to Broyles to give the Blue Hens what would be the game-winning touchdown with 6:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Dukes opened the game on defense and on the first play, Robertson deflected Trent Hurley’s pass and intercepted it, putting JMU in business at the UD 33. Madison could not get a first down, but put the first points on the board on a 42-yard field goal by Cameron Starke to make it 3-0. JMU made it 6-0 on 31-yard field goal by Starke with 6:11 remaining in the first to cap off a seven-play, 70-yard drive.
The Dukes pushed their lead to 13-0 when Birdsong connected on a 37-yard touchdown pass to tight end Deane Cheatham with just 16 seconds to go in the first quarter.
After a missed field goal on their previous possession, Delaware put together its first scoring drive of tre game of seven plays and 71 yards. This time, the Hens found the end zone on Andrew Pierce’s two-yard touchdown run.
Delaware threatened again late in the first half, but redshirt-freshman cornerback Kwe’shon Williams deflected Hurley’s pass and redshirt-freshman cornerback Taylor Reynolds grabbed it in the end zone for a touchback . JMU took it the length of the field in just under two mimutes, as Birdsong hit Dae’Quan Scott on a wheel route for a 37-yard touchdown that made it 19-7 Dukes at the halftime break.
On the first possession of the second half, Cameron Starke missed his first field goal of the season, a 33- yard attempt, wide right.
Neither team was able to run the ball effectively in the game, as the two teams only managed just over 120 yards each. Sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong was 19-for-35 for 292 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while redshirt-senior linebacker Stephon Robertson led all tacklers with a career-high 16 stops, including a career-best 4.5 tackles for loss.
Dae’Quan Scott was held in check for most of the game by the Blue Hens defense and finished the game with 20 carries for 52 yards and four receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown.
James Madison held a slight advantage in yardage at 414-360 and also time of possession at 32:17 to 27:43. The two key stats were third-down conversions, as JMU was just 3-of-16 as compared to UD’s 8-of-15 and Madison also committed nine penalties for 77 yards compared to just one penalty for 10 yards for Delaware.
JMU will return to action at Bridgeforth Stadium on Oct. 5 to face CAA newcomer Albany at 1:30 p.m.