In JMU football’s return to the city that saw it win its first FCS National Championship 15 years ago, the Dukes once again left victorious. JMU claimed a 37-14 win in its last game before CAA play begins next weekend against Elon.
The win wasn’t pretty early on, though.
“We knew that nothing that they did was on their own,” redshirt junior safety D’Angelo Amos said. “It was us playing bad ball, not being disciplined.”
After going up 14-0 with over five minutes remaining in the first quarter, Chattanooga’s senior quarterback Nick Tiano helped the Mocs fight their way onto the scoresheet. It started with a 19-yard pass to senior tight end Chris James to pull Chattanooga within a touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, JMU freshman running back Austin Douglas let the football slip through his hands and a Chattanooga player promptly fell on it, allowing the Mocs to regain possession on JMU’s 33-yard line. A quick drive saw Tiano run the ball in from two yards out for the Mocs’ second score.
It only took 16 seconds for Chattanooga to pull even.
“I thought it was a ball game that we were going to have to respond,” head coach Curt Cignetti said. “You get to quick scores and all of sudden couple mistakes. I thought they were in position there where they could make it really bad for us and we kind of rebounded a little bit.”
The Dukes seemed to find their ground following the early mistakes. The offense drove the field two more times in the opening half, tacking on two field goals to give the Dukes a 20-14 lead heading into the locker room.
The second half opened the way the first ended. Redshirt senior quarterback Ben DiNucci led JMU down the field where redshirt junior kicker Ethan Ratke finished it off with his third made field goal of the game. Ratke’s score tied him John Coursey for the most all time in JMU program history at 39.
“I'd say there's a pretty good chance he'll break that,” Cignetti said.
After a strong start to the game, scoring 14 points in less than 10 minutes, the offense fell off heading into the second quarter. But, with 3:38 remaining in the third quarter, redshirt senior wide receiver Brandon Polk gave the Dukes a scoring spark.
DiNucci found the Penn State transfer who used his speed to break open to a 48-yard touchdown pass, which ties the career-long Polk set last week against Morgan State. The touchdown put the Dukes up two scores.
“I kick the six-yard hitch out there and he kind of takes for 50,” DiNucci said. “[Polk’s] got elite speed … He took that thing and split the safeties and that was a huge play.”
The JMU offense finished with 532 total yards, including a season-high 264 yards through the air. DiNucci showed poise in the Dukes’ final non-conference game with one touchdown pass, 49 yards rushing and no turnovers.
Junior running back Percy Agyei-Obese recorded two more rushing touchdowns to bring his total to four so far in 2019. The Frederick, Maryland, native finished with a career-high 114 yards rushing and became the first Duke to rush for over 100 yards so far this season.
“It felt pretty good getting out there,” Agyei-Obese said. “We just take one play at a time every week, and today I felt like I got back in my groove.”
After giving up two touchdowns in the opening half — including the first rushing score against JMU this season — the Dukes’ defense held strong against the Chattanooga offense in the second half. The Mocs posted 147 yards in the opening 30 minutes, but when the two teams came out of the locker room, Chattanooga struggled to finish the drive.
In the second half, redshirt junior safety D’Angelo Amos hauled in his first career interception on JMU’s 13-yard line, halting a dangerous Chattanooga scoring chance.
“I just played back to the center to feel, watched his eyes, played his eyes and just came away with a pick,” Amos said.
Cignetti will lead his team to Elon, North Carolina, next weekend as the Dukes prepare to face the team that gave them their first CAA loss in 20 games last season. It’ll be Cignetti’s first time at Rhodes Stadium since he left the school for JMU. Elon enters the game against its former coach with a 2-2 record. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.
Contact Catie Harper at email@example.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.