JMU football might have started slow, but after the second quarter, there was no stopping the Dukes.
When New Hampshire found its way into the end zone in the opening five minutes of the game, the Dukes found themselves trailing another CAA opponent this season. But, much like all the other times, JMU responded in commanding fashion.
JMU claimed its ninth win of the season, thrashing New Hampshire 54-16. With the victory, the Dukes claim at least a share of the CAA title after missing out last season, with Richmond still having a shot at the CAA title as well.
“I think that everybody's aspirations are a lot higher than that right now,” head coach Curt Cignetti said. “We want [the] outright conference championship … I think this team is on a mission, and I think everybody's got the same vision. And it was good to beat this team who beat us last year.”
Behind redshirt senior quarterback Ben DiNucci, the JMU offense came storming onto the field. The Wexford, Pennsylvania, native threw for a career-high 293 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 15 yards and a score.
Polk led the Dukes’ receivers with 136 yards receiving and his seventh touchdown catch of the season. Redshirt junior wide receiver Jake Brown also put together one of his best games of the season with four receptions for 48 yards, while senior tight end Dylan Stapleton recorded his first touchdown of the 2019 season.
“Coming in we thought we had a pretty solid game plan in terms of what they were going to line up with in certain formations,” DiNucci said. “It's easy when those guys go out and get open [and] all I gotta do is put it there and let them make plays.”
On the ground, junior running back Percy Agyei-Obese had a career performance against the Wildcats. The Frederick, Maryland, native recorded a career-high 130 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
The Wildcat defense struggled to contain Agyei-Obese throughout the contest with four of his carries being over 10 yards. Two of his touchdowns also came off runs of 20 or more yards.
“Our offensive line they were dominating the trenches the whole game,” Agyei-Obese said. “The defense, they were … tired at the beginning of the game, which allowed us to just ground and pound the rest of the game.”
Redshirt junior quarterback Cole Johnson came in for DiNucci during the third and fourth quarters. WIth the clock winding down, Johnson took the ball for a career-high 33 yards to the end zone, recording his first touchdown of the year.
“You know, longest running the game was Cole Johnson on a designed handoff,” Cignetti said with a smile. “He decided pull the ball on a blitz and score a touchdown.”
While the offense was putting on a show, the JMU defense quietly got the job done.
Through JMU’s nine games this season, much of the focus has been on the defense, and for good reason — the Dukes boast one of the top defensive units in the country. However, even with a dominant scoreline, the defense’s game wasn’t what most have come to expect, posting only six tackles for loss.
While it was a less explosive game for the JMU defense, senior safety Adam Smith continued to prove his worth to the JMU secondary. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native recorded his fifth interception of the season — a team-high — and has now had a pick in four straight contests. The 30-yard return that followed the pick was the longest of Smith’s career.
“I definitely think we're all getting a little bit more comfortable with each other,” Smith said. “The D-line's obviously making plays, getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback [and] causing the quarterback to make some bad decisions.”
JMU will play at Bridgeforth Stadium again next weekend for its final home game of the regular season. The Dukes have the next week to prepare for in-state rival Richmond to come to town with sole possession of the CAA title on the line. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
Contact Catie Harper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.