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JMU clinched a share of the conference championship following a 56-10 win over Towson on Nov. 20. 

It was a good joke — a great joke, even — but redshirt senior quarterback Cole Johnson sailed a 9-yard touchdown pass into the south end zone during the second quarter of JMU football’s regular-season finale with Towson. The pass landed in the hands of redshirt junior wide receiver Reggie Brown and Johnson had 31 touchdown passes in the season – the all-time JMU record and done in 11 games.

That record was one of many in JMU’s 56-10 routing of Towson on Senior Day. Johnson finished with six touchdown passes and 21-for-25 in completions — looking sharp heading into the postseason.

“It’s not just one guy, it’s all of them,” Johnson said. “It’s a credit to our receivers, our offensive line, our coaches … everybody really. I obviously [have] the rewards from that, I think it’s a great job by everybody.”

Johnson wasn’t the only one breaking records Saturday afternoon. The matchup was highly dominated through the air, and once again, the combination between redshirt freshman Antwane Wells Jr. and redshirt junior Kris Thornton commenced. The two combined for four touchdowns.

“They took us out in the fourth quarter but I was trying to get his goal with four touchdowns in one game,” Wells Jr. said. “[We’re] always just friendly, going back and forth, trying to see who gets the best yards and who gets the most touchdowns.”

The first Dukes’ touchdown of the day, though, was on the ground, and it didn’t take long to get. Redshirt sophomore running back Solomon Vanhorse watched the kickoff from the Tigers sail through the air, land in his hands and saw a hole from in front of him as he ran 94 yards to the end zone in the first play of the game.

That set the tone for what came.

Between Thornton’s career-long touchdown reception of 83 yards and Wells. Jr. taking three passes to the house, it was an electric first half. The score showed it, the Dukes took the 42-7 lead into the locker room.

The Tigers had a bright spot: senior running back Jerry Howard Jr. 

JMU head coach Curt Cignetti said Howard Jr. was “tough” against Dukes. He was a positive-yard running back — that is, even when he gets stopped, it’s hard to make him lose yards. Despite the Towson offense, the senior had just under 100 yards on the ground in the first half.

The lone Tigers touchdown came through the air — redshirt senior quarterback Chris Ferguson threw an eight-yard pass to redshirt senior Caleb Smith, who found the end zone in the first quarter. It was a 14-7 game then, but the Dukes shut out the Tigers for the remaining duration.

How did JMU stifle a physical Tigers offense? It took a full effort from the line and the secondary. 

“I think for the first time in a long time we actually played four quarters, executing well,” Redshirt senior defensive lineman Bryce Carter said. 

Carter, a Towson transfer, led the team with tackles for loss,3, a sack and forced fumble. Redshirt senior cornerback Taurus Carroll also led the team with four solo tackles through three quarters.

The JMU offense didn’t stall during the second half. The Dukes put up two more touchdowns, both by Vanhorse. The running back caught an eight-yard pass from Johnson and picked up another three-yard end zone visit in the third, ending with three touchdowns on the day.

“I’ve always been cool with [Johnson],” Vanhorse said. “I feel like me just catching the balls out of the backfield, he has more trust in me, to find me just like he has trust in [Wells Jr.] or he has trust in [Thornton].”

The fourth quarter started with redshirt junior Patrick Bentley, who was honored on Senior Day, taking the field as Cignetti began to sub out the starters. Towson freshman kicker Keegan Vaughan added a 41-yard field goal to finish out the scoring.

Johnson finished 21-for-25, 363 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Dukes, while Thornton had a team-high 116 yards and one touchdown. Wells Jr. had three end zone trips himself as four different Dukes had a touchdown. Redshirt junior linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey and redshirt senior linebacker Kelvin Azanama both finished with eight tackles and three different Dukes had an interception.

Ferguson had 90 yards for the Tigers and one touchdown. Howard Jr. finished with 162 yards while Smith had a team-high 87 yards. Senior cornerback Charles Peeples had eight tackles for Towson.

JMU finishes the regular season 10-1 (7-1 CAA) and becomes the co-conference champions with Villanova. The Dukes wait to see their fate on the FCS selection show — it starts at 12:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

“We’ve been No. 2, I don’t see why we wouldn’t be two [in the playoffs],” Cignetti said. “Of course, last spring we were No. 1 in the country … somehow dropped to three, figure that out but I expect us to be [No. 2].”

Contact Savannah Reger at breezesports@gmail.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.

Scoring Summary

Q1 (14:47) Touchdown, JMU; 94-yard, Solomon Vanhorse

Q1 (11:05) Touchdown, JMU; 8-yard, Antwane Wells Jr. 

Q1 (7:26) Touchdown, Towson; 8-yard, Caleb Smith

Q2 (11:08) Touchdown, JMU; 83-yard, Kris Thornton

Q2 (7:44) Touchdown, JMU; 25-yard, Antwane Wells Jr.

Q2 (6:43) Touchdown, JMU; 30-yard, Reggie Brown

Q2 (0:31) Touchdown, JMU; 9-yard, Antwane Wells Jr. 

Q3 (10:03) Touchdown, JMU; 10-yard, Solomon Vanhorse

Q3 (2:20) Touchdown, JMU; 3-yard, Solomon Vanhorse

Q4 (9:09) Field goal, Towson; 41-yard, Keegan Vaughan