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Teammates congratulate Kris Thornton after an incredible touchdown during the game against Morehead State on Saturday, February 20, 2021.

 

Four hundred and six days and nine hours. That’s how long it’s been since JMU played a second of competitive football. 

At 12:07 p.m., redshirt sophomore kicker Connor Madden launched the ball toward the southern end zone at Bridgeforth Stadium to make the official long-awaited return for JMU football. Since then, it was business as normal for the Dukes as they danced to a 52-0 victory over Morehead State. 

It was a combined effort from both sides of the ball. The Dukes’ defense covered the entirety of the field and were on top of nearly every play the Eagles ran. The offense was efficient, led by an O-Line creating holes for the running backs and giving redshirt senior quarterback Cole Johnson time to manage a potent and fluid offense

From the beginning, JMU grabbed control of the contest. The Dukes stormed out of the gates in the first quarter and had three rushing touchdowns in 7:43, each scored by different players: redshirt senior Jawon Hamilton, redshirt sophomore Solomon Vanhorse and sophomore Latrele Palmer. 

“Shoutout to the offensive line,” Palmer said. “They’ve been opening up the holes for all the running backs all day, so once I saw green I just accelerated and whoever was in my way was gonna get, you know, the shoulder.”

Morehead State was able to stop the Dukes’ offense late in the first and orchestrated a drive that got the Eagles to the JMU 23-yard line, but after a sack from freshman defensive end Mikail Kamara and a stop by the suffocating Dukes’ defense, redshirt senior safety Wayne Davis intercepted a pass to prolong the shutout. 

It didn’t take long for JMU to capitalize off its first turnover of the season as Johnson found redshirt junior Kris Thornton — a transfer from VMI — for a 52-yard touchdown to make it 28-0. Thornton finished the game with a game-high 90 yards off just three catches. 

“Speed kills,” head coach Curt Cignetti said. “It’s just like when you saw Vanhorse breaking the secondary and go all the way. You know, Thornton the same thing … Speed equals one-play touchdowns as we saw last year with Brandon Polk.”

JMU began the second half like the first: quickly scoring and further putting itself in the driver’s seat. A grueling 14-play, 74-yard drive that was completely running plays pushed the Dukes’ lead to 35. Within the next six minutes, Palmer and Hamilton extended JMU’s lead to 42-0 with a pair of touchdowns, making it five different Dukes who found the end zone. 

Later in the third, Agyei-Obese punched it in from three yards out to make it 49-0. He finished with 116 yards on 12 carries and the lone score, good for his seventh 100-yard game in his collegiate career. 

JMU’s offense finished with 348 yards on the ground compared to Morehead State’s minus six. It averaged 8 yards per play and went a perfect 5 of 5 in the red zone. 

The defense followed suit with impressive stats. Redshirt junior linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey finished with a team-high eight tackles with one for loss, while senior defensive end Mike Greene added two tackles for loss. In total, the defense had four sacks and 12 tackles for loss as it pitched its first shutout of the season. 

“It was big going out there and it shows that we’ve been out working practice,” Greene said. “But it was a big win and I think it was great for the team.”

Morehead State struggled to get any momentum going, but finished with 104 passing yards and forced one turnover. Redshirt senior DeAndre Clayton finished the game 7 of 9 for 71 yards and one interception. 

The Dukes, now 1-0, turn their attention to Robert Morris, who comes to Harrisonburg next Saturday with a scheduled kickoff at noon. Morehead State falls to 0-1 and has a few weeks until its March 13 game at Presbyterian, which is currently scheduled for noon. 

Contact Noah Ziegler at breezesports@gmail.com. For more coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.

There comes a time where an athlete realizes their true potential. When I realized that I was never going to make a living on the court, I figured I’d make it on the sidelines. I hope to be able to attend and cover the World Cup and NCAA tournament.