For three quarters, JMU looked like a Big 12 team trading punches with West Virginia. However, a costly interception negated the potential takedown, and the Mountaineers escaped Week 1 with a win.
Down three with just over 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, redshirt senior quarterback Ben DiNucci avoided being brought down in the backfield, but a desperation throw was picked off. Then, WVU redshirt junior quarterback Austin Kendall found junior wide receiver Tevin Bush in the endzone to make it 20-10, putting the upset-minded Dukes out of range.
“I told our kids after the game, ‘Losing will never be accepted at James Madison,’” JMU head coach Curt Cignetti said. “There were some great individual efforts out there and I’m sure there’s a lot to be proud of. I wish I could’ve done more for them to help them be successful.”
DiNucci’s interception wasn’t the only mistake that cost JMU. Redshirt junior D’Angelo Amos muffed a punt early in the game, junior running back Percy Agyei-Obese lost the ball in West Virginia territory and redshirt junior kicker Ethan Ratke had a kick blocked.
Cignetti unveiled his run-heavy offense in the first half, giving carries to four running backs. Redshirt freshman running back Solomon Vanhorse led the Dukes with 47 yards and a touchdown through the first 30 minutes.
“I came a long way since being a walk-on,” Vanhorse said. “It’s been a grind and I still got to keep grinding to get where I want to be, so it’s not over yet.”
DiNucci’s arm wasn’t utilized in the first half as much as it had been last season, but he made good use of the chances given. The Wexford, Pennsylvania, native was 7-for-10 for 69 yards in the first half and added 45 yards on the ground.
JMU was set to extend its lead to seven early in the second quarter, before Ratke’s attempt was blocked, keeping the score at 7-3. Neither team could add to its total before halftime as the Dukes went into the locker room with a four-point lead.
It didn’t take long into the second half for Kendall to march the Mountaineers down the field and take the lead. A seven-play, 82-yard drive capped by Kendall connecting with redshirt senior wide receiver George Campbell gave WVU a 10-7 lead.
As West Virginia head coach Neal Brown’s team landed the first punch of the second half, Cignetti’s men came back and drove deep into West Virginia territory and tied the game with a field goal from Ratke. Both defenses made big stops to give their offenses the opportunity to break the game open, but neither team capitalized.
“The last thing we want to do is lose up front,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Ron’Dell Carter said. “The O-Line did a great job, the D-Line did a great job, we just got to finish … That was a tough one to lose.”
Carter finished the game with four tackles, two of which were for a loss. As a whole, the defense sacked Kendall once and forced no turnovers.
Similar to its first scoring drive, West Virginia chopped at JMU’s defense to begin the fourth quarter. A fourth-down conversion helped extend the drive for the Mountaineers, but the seemingly impassable JMU defensive line held its own and forced a field goal to make it 13-10.
Following DiNucci’s interception and Bush’s 22-yard touchdown, JMU found itself in redzone territory. It couldn’t get over the line, but Ratke notched his second field goal of the game to bring the Dukes within a score.
The Dukes had a chance to tie the game and send it into overtime, but Brown’s defense held strong and caused a turnover on downs. A quick three-and-out gave JMU another chance, but there wasn’t enough left in the tank. In the first game of the Curt Cignetti era, JMU fell at the hands of a power-five opponent.
“You don’t always learn from winning, but you definitely learn from losing,” redshirt senior wide receiver Brandon Polk said.
Now 0-1, JMU will return to Harrisonburg and shift its focus to St. Francis (PA). The Dukes and Red Flash meet at Bridgeforth Stadium on Saturday with kickoff set for 6 p.m.
Contact Noah Ziegler at email@example.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.