Backed up at the 5-yard line in the first quarter on JMU’s second offensive drive of the game, graduate transfer quarterback Todd Centeio flashed it back.
Before his pulled oblique Oct. 20, before throwing just 14 passes last week against Louisville and today before he battled through the second half after an ankle injury, Centeio played like his old self — like the quarterback who led JMU to its 5-0 start and put up 468 passing yards versus Georgia Southern.
Centeio evaded pressure and rolled to his left. He floated a pass downfield on a crossing route to redshirt senior tight end Drew Painter, who rumbled downfield for 27 yards.
The drive ended seven plays later on a sack-strip fumble and subsequent punt, but it became clear: The Centeio of old unleashed himself.
On the backs of multiple other pre-Marshall-looking plays from Centeio before battling a late-second quarter ankle injury and a defense that forced four ODU turnovers, JMU rolled to a 37-3 victory in the first Royal Rivalry matchup on the football field.
“I’m really happy for our players and our alumni that love JMU. I know this game meant a lot to them,” head coach Curt Cignetti said. “I think this will be a good rivalry, hard-fought rivalry down the road. It was a decisive win.”
The Dukes’ defense held ODU redshirt sophomore quarterback Hayden Wolff to 12-of-22 passing for 112 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, but Wolff paced the Monarchs in rushing yards with 27. Centeio finished 18-for-21 with 304 yards through the air and one interception.
But with 5:43 left before halftime, Centeio’s effortless movement and play-making took a sharp turn.
On a routine quarterback keeper, Centeio took a low hit after a two-yard gain and stayed on the ground. He then got up gingerly. JMU burned a timeout.
“You don’t want to be injured — that’s for sure,” Centeio said. “I’m gonna have three more opportunities — now two more opportunities with this team, so I want to leave it all out and go out with a bang. And if that means that I play injured, then I’m going to play injured.”
After an Old Dominion three-and-out following Centeio’s injury, JMU got the ball back with 2:59 left before halftime. Redshirt freshman backup quarterback Billy Atkins threw an interception on his first pass attempt — ODU redshirt senior linebacker Steven Williams set the Monarchs up at JMU’s 31-yard line. It looked for a second like ODU — down 17-3 going into halftime after freshman kicker Ethan Sanchez tacked on a field goal off the Atkins interception — could battle back into the game.
However, JMU’s defense slammed the door early in the third quarter. After missing last week with an injury, Dukes’ sophomore linebacker Jailin Walker picked off Wolff and took it back for a touchdown — his third interception of the season and second pick-six. It put JMU up 27-3 with 7:47 left in the third quarter, while Centeio didn’t have to carry much load on offense and could ride out the win by mostly handing the ball off to his running backs.
Those running backs, primarily graduate Percy Agyei-Obese and redshirt freshman Kaelon Black, mostly split touches in the backfield early on — Agyei-Obese rushed the ball nine times and Black touched the rock seven times in the first half. The duo combined for 133 yards on 4.9 yards per carry; Black scored a late touchdown in his return home to the Hampton Roads area that iced JMU’s victory with 5:47 to go.
Black and redshirt senior wide receiver Kris Thornton got the ball in open space, which didn’t happen too often versus Louisville. Thornton did damage on both short and deep routes, totaling 140 yards on six catches.
But none of Thornton’s catches were as eye-popping as his fourth with around seven minutes left in the second quarter.
Centeio said he “100%” intended to throw to redshirt senior wide receiver Devin Ravenel, but the ball sailed between Ravenel and Thornton. Thornton came down with it after colliding with Ravenel in midair on a 46-yard catch, in which he surpassed former JMU wide receiver Gary Clark (1980-83) to move to fifth in all-time receptions at JMU with 156.
“I had a double move on that play, and I’d seen the DB [defensive back] turn his hips, and I knew I beat him,” Thornton said. “Toddy threw it up, it was a little underthrown — just a little bit — so I had to wait for it and I just went up and got it over top of him. It was a big play in the game.”
Centeio did the rest, rushing it in from six yards out to put JMU ahead 14-0 with 13:49 left in the second quarter — his team-leading sixth rushing touchdown of the season.
With the win, JMU moves to 6-3 (4-2 Sun Belt), while ODU drops to 3-7 (2-4 Sun Belt). Next Saturday, JMU faces Georgia State at 2 p.m. back at Bridgeforth Stadium for its first home game since its Homecoming loss versus Marshall on Oct. 22. The Monarchs try to get off their four-game losing skid at Appalachian State the same day at 2:30 p.m.
“Today really boosted our energy,” Walker said. “We just got to worry about the game we play next week. Georgia State is a good team. We just got to be dialed in, watch film — play how we played today.”
This story was updated at 12:53 a.m., Nov. 13