LYNCHBURG, Va. - In an offensive battle of nationally-ranked Commonwealth teams, kicker Cameron Starke (Halifax, Va./Halifax County (West Virginia)) hit a career-long 40-yard field goal to lift #13 James Madison to a 27-24 victory at #20 Liberty, Sept. 17. With the win, the Dukes improved to 2-1 on the year, while the Flames had a nine-game home win streak snapped and fell to 1-2.
Midway through the fourth with the game tied at 24, the team's traded possessions and the Dukes got the ball on their own 25-yard line with 2:11 to play after a 59-yard punt by Matt Larsson. On 3rd-and-4, Redshirt-junior quarterback Justin Thorpe (Richmond, Va./Varina) hit redshirt-senior Kerby Long (Arlington, Va./Yorktown (Fork Union)) with a 32-yard pass down the middle to move it to the Liberty 37. Another JMU first down and a 4-yard rush got the ball to the Flames' 23 with two seconds to play. LU called a timeout to try to ice Starke, but the redshirt sophomore split the uprights to get the win.
The Dukes were outgained by the hosts 372-314, though JMU had one of its most-balanced games in recent history with 173 yards on the ground and 141 yards through the air. The defense did limit Liberty's ground game to just 74 yards on the night. The game was marred by penalties with the teams combining for more than 200 yards of penalties. Madison was solid on third downs, going 8-for-13 on third downs, while also putting points on the board all four times in the red zone.
Redshirt-sophomore Dae'Quan Scott (Staunton, Va./Robert E. Lee) led the Dukes with his second-straight 100-yard rushing game as he had 29 carries for 126 yards and three scores. Thorpe was 13-for-18 through the air for 141 yards while having 11 carries for 30 yards. Long had a season-high six catches for 61 yards, including the key late catch.
Liberty was led by quarterback Mike Brown who was 24-for-29 for 298 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, with wide receiver B.J. Hayes had career highs of nine catches for 158 yards and one touchdown.
JMU won the coin toss and elected to receive, with redshirt-sophomore Jordan Anderson (Chantilly, Va./Westfield) returning the opening kick 32 yards to the JMU 45. Thorpe connected with redshirt-sophomore Renard Robinson (Baltimore, Md./Mt. St. Joseph's) for an early 24-yard third-down conversion. Scott had a big 24-yard run to set up the Dukes inside the LU 5. On 2nd-and-goal, Scott got in the end zone standing up to cap the seven-play, 55-yard drive. Starke's point after giving the visitors an early 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
Liberty had two chances to cut into the lead, including getting inside the Dukes' 10 on its second drive. However, kicker Matt Bevins came up short on a pair of kicks, snapping his 16-straight made streak, and JMU continued to lead 7-0 early in the second quarter.
JMU turned the field again, putting together a 14-play, 59-yard drive, taking up almost eight minutes on the clock. However the drive stalled at the Liberty 15, and Starke converted a 32-yard field from the left hash mark to push the Madison lead to 10-0 with 5:07 to go in the half.
The host Flames got it back into Madison territory with a 28-yard pass from Brown to Hayes, getting the ball at the JMU 34. A pair of roughing-the-passer penalties against the Dukes gave Liberty the ball first-and-goal at the 6-yard line. However, the JMU defense held and forced a 24-yard field goal by redshirt-freshman Alex Kacere to trim the lead to 10-3 with less than two minutes remaining in the second and was the eventual halftime margin.
The host Flames got the opening kick of the second half and immediately moved down the field, starting at the JMU 42 after a return to the Liberty 43 and a 15-yard personal foul penalty against the Dukes. Ten plays later, Brown found the end zone on the ground from two yards out and Kacere hit the point after to knot the game at 10 early in the second half.
JMU had an immediate answer, putting together another sustained drive of 10 plays, covering 74 yards in 4:56. After mixing the run and pass effectively on the drive, Scott took the handoff on a 3rd-and-1 at the LU 10, broke two tackles and found the end zone for his second touchdown of the game. Starke tacked on the point after and the lead was back to seven at 17-10 with 4:32 left in the third.
Liberty came back again and put points on the board, going eight plays and 68 yards on its drive. It ended with a 5-yard pass from Brown to Hayes and the extra point tied the game again at 17 with under a minute to go in the third period.
Madison kept the ball moving down the field again, this time a nine-play march down the field. Scott scored his third touchdown of the game, this time from two yards out. JMU went back ahead 24-17 with just over 12 minutes to play in the contest.
The trading of scores continued as Liberty managed more big plays on its next drive, moving the ball quickly against the Madison defense. It took only three plays to go 47 yards after a good kick return, with the result a 43-yard touchdown pass from Brown to wide receiver Chris Summers to again tie the game at 24 with 7:45 remaining, setting up the sequence of plays for the final heroics.
The Dukes will open Colonial Athletic Association play on the road, traveling to Williamsburg, Va., to take on #4 William & Mary. Kickoff at Zable Stadium is set for 7 p.m., and will be televised as part of the CAA's television package.