HARRISONBURG, Va. - The James Madison football team scored on its first three drives of the game and never looked back as the Dukes went on to defeat the visiting Saint Francis Red Flash 55-7 in the 2012 season opener on Saturday, September 1. JMU converted on every visit to the red zone against Saint Francis and was only forced to punt the ball one time.
The Dukes ran 89 offensive plays and compiled 602 total offensive yards against the Red Flash, the third-most total offensive yards in JMU's Division I history. Madison was also a stellar 7-of-13 on third down conversions and held the ball more than 11 minutes than the visitors. The JMU defense was able to hold the Red Flash to just 155 yards of total offense off of 49 offensive plays and only 4-for-12 on third-down conversions.
Four Dukes had at least 50 yards of rushing as JMU totaled 377 rushing yards for the game. Leading all rushers was redshirt senior quarterback Justin Thorpe (Richmond, Va./Varina), who ran for 76 yards and two touchdowns. He also completed 15-of-27 pass attempts for 177 of the 225 total passing yards by JMU quarterbacks, including a passing touchdown to redshirt junior Dae'Quan Scott (Staunton, Va./Robert E. Lee).
Saint Francis was led on the ground by Khairi Dickson, who had 12 carries for 51 of the Red Flash 100 yards on the ground. The visitors were limited on their success through the air, as quarterbacks John Kelly and Corey Nielson combined to go 11-of-19 for just 55 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Scott rushed for 73 yards on the night and had the opening touchdown of the year when he rushed for one yard on the Dukes' opening drive of the season. A successful kick attempt by junior Cameron Starke (Halifax, Va./Halifax County (West Virginia)) gave JMU a 7-0 lead with 5:42 to go in the first quarter. Five minutes later, Thorpe ran 15 yards to the end zone himself, with another PAT by Starke making it 14-0 at the end of the first period.
JMU rode the momentum into the second quarter when Thorpe connected with sophomore Marquis Woodyard (Frederick, Md./Thomas Johnson) for a short four-yard gain to midfield, but a facemask penalty by Saint Francis moved the ball 15 additional yards. Thorpe then took control and finished up with a nine-yard rush for the first of his two scores on the night.
Sophomore Dean Marlowe (Queens, N.Y./Holy Cross) made his own noise when he intercepted a pass attempt by Saint Francis' John Kelly to put the Dukes at their own 38-yard line. The following 62-yard, 44-second drive ended when Thorpe completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to Scott to put Madison up 28-0 midway through the second.
Before the clock ran down on the first half, Starke split the uprights on a pair of field goal attempts from 24 and 47 yards out. His 47-yarder is the longest of his career and put the Dukes up 34-0 as they headed to the halftime locker room.
True freshman quarterback Michael Birdsong (Matoaca, Va./Matoaca) saw his first collegiate action during JMU's second drive of the third quarter. Birdsong rushed for 30 yards late in the quarter to set JMU up on the SFU three-yard line. On the next play, he handed the ball off to Simmons for a touchdown in the corner to put the Dukes ahead by 41.
The Red Flash were able to put points on the board to start the fourth quarter when Kevin Parker took a two-yard pass from John Kelly. JMU would answer quickly when Birdsong connected for the first touchdown pass of his collegiate career, rolling right and hitting sophomore Daniel Brown (Windsor, Va./Isle of Wight) in the end zone to make the score 48-7. The scoring wrapped up with senior Hykeem Brodie's (Chesapeake, Va./Western Branch (Old Dominion/Penn State)) 42-yard tear for the Dukes' final points of the night.
JMU will return to the field at home next Saturday, September 8, against Alcorn State. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Bridgeforth Stadium.