James Madison safety Adam Smith (21) looks at the coach for a signal to begin the drill.

FRISCO, Texas — It’s been a four-and-a-half-month journey, but they’re here. The Dukes are 30 minutes into their matchup with NDSU for the FCS National Championship. Through the opening half, JMU trails NDSU, 21-10.

The good: JMU’s opening drive

Being stuck deep in their own territory to start the drive didn’t stop the Dukes from marching down the field and claiming the touchdown. Redshirt senior quarterback Ben DiNucci didn’t seem to falter on the drive either, completing all five of his passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. 

The Stapleton brothers also made their presence known among the Bison defense, as both caught key passes to keep JMU moving. Redshirt senior wide receiver Riley Stapleton finished the drive with the touchdown reception, which was his ninth of the season. 

JMU’s running backs — redshirt junior Jawon Hamilton and junior Percy Agyei-Obese — both carried the ball on the drive. Agyei-Obese saw the most carries with eight. 

The bad: costly JMU penalties

Heading into the contest, the Dukes managed to limit the number of penalties they endured during a game. In the opening half against NDSU, however, both the offense and defense were called for penalties that helped change drives.

The Dukes’ secondary suffered two pass interference calls, both of which extended the Bison’s drive. Junior cornerback Wesley McCormick was the lone JMU player flagged for pass interference. 

Redshirt senior defensive lineman Ron’Dell Carter also got called for a face mask after the defense pinned the Bison back near their own end zone. 

On offense, senior tight end Dylan Stapleton was flagged on third-and-10, backing the Dukes up in their own end of the field. JMU couldn’t bounce back after the call, and junior punter Harry O’Kelly was forced to boot the ball for the first time in the game.

The ugly: The Dukes’ defense controlling NDSU’s offensive push

There’s a reason that redshirt freshman quarterback Trey Lance won the Walter Payton and Ray Rice awards Friday night — he can play. The quarterback hurt the Dukes throughout the Bison’s first drive mainly with his feet, rushing for 86 yards. 

The JMU defense managed to get pressure on Lance, including a sack, but Lance always bounced back to pick up more yards. JMU couldn’t seem to limit the big plays from other players either, as sophomore wide receiver Phoenix Sproles rushed for 38 yards to give the Bison a seven-point lead. 

Even when it looked like JMU would get NDSU off the field following a third-down stop, the Bison faked a field goal and took the ball all the way to the end zone to go up two scores. 

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

Pat Summitt, Erin Andrews and Lindsay Czarniak were three names that inspired me growing up. Here I am now at JMU, Czarniak’s alma mater, taking steps to live out my dream. As Pat would say, “I’m going to keep on keepin’ on, I promise you that.”