Defense dominates in James Madison win
Harrisonburg, VA (Sports Network) - An interception by Taveion Cuffee with 2:09 remaining in the fourth quarter sealed a 10-3 victory for James Madison University over visiting Liberty Saturday.
With under three minutes to play Liberty took possession on its own 30-yard line trailing by a touchdown, but on just the third play of the drive, quarterback Mike Brown's pass went awry, allowing Cuffee to make the decisive pick.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," Cuffee said.
With the win, James Madison climbs to 3-0 on the young season, while 22nd- ranked Liberty falls to 2-2, losing its second straight game in as many weeks.
James Madison entered the game riding the crest of its huge win over Virginia Tech in Week 2. The atmosphere was frenzied before kickoff, with pyrotechnics rocking Bridgeforth Stadium and fans puffing their collective chests over the team's newfound celebrity.
The James Madison faithful had cause to boast, as the Dukes' win over Virginia Tech was only the second time in history that an FCS team defeated a ranked FBS opponent. The other was Appalachian State's much heralded win over No. 5 Michigan in 2007. Appalachian State went on to win the FCS championship that year.
Liberty is no pushover however, having defeated an FBS team of its own this year in Ball State. The Flames entered Saturday's game looking to avenge a disheartening 30-27 loss to Robert Morris in Week 3.
Saturday, James Madison opened sluggishly, and Liberty got on the board first with a 19-yard field goal by Matt Bevins. The field goal was preceded by a 14- play, 88-yard drive, which was extended due to a roughing the kicker penalty on James Madison tailback Lee Reynolds.
The James Madison offense, which was anemic for the majority of the game, finally found pay dirt with 53-seconds remaining in the second quarter. Following a 4th-and-1 stand by the Dukes defense, Drew Dudzik rolled the offense down the field, reeling off a 29-yard run and then finding Griff Yancey in the end zone for a 25-yard completion and a 7-3 James Madison half- time lead.
One touchdown was all the Dukes defense needed as the unit held Liberty scoreless in the second half.
"They have been very good on defense around here for a long time and they played very good defense tonight," said Liberty head coach Danny Rocco.
In addition to notching the game-deciding interception, Cuffee also thwarted Liberty's lone second-half scoring opportunity by blocking a 47-yard field goal attempt early in the third quarter. Cuffee also tallied six tackles.
With the defense holding steady, the offense was asked only to grind down the clock, which it did behind the brilliant running of Scott Noble.
Noble carried the ball 17 times for 89 bruising yards, with the majority of those yards coming in the second half.
"I thought Scott Noble gave us a huge shot in the arm," said James Madison coach Mickey Matthews. "I don't know if we would've won the game tonight if Scott hadn't run like he did."
Despite the win, there is concern on the James Madison side, as the offense failed to consistently move the ball for the majority of the game.
"The best way to describe ourselves on offense was that we were very spotty," said Matthews. "We need to be better on offense."
Quarterback Drew Dudzik struggled to find his mark, completing just six of 14 passes for 78 yards.
With James Madison's statement win over Virginia Tech, expectations have been amped up in Harrisonburg. There is a buzz and hum on gameday, and the feeling inside the stadium is one of a spectacle.
Following the unspectacular win, an elaborate fireworks display rocketed over the end-zone scoreboard.
"Excessive," Noble called it.
Yes, the excitement over the Dukes is palpable here in Harrisonburg. While that excitement is warranted, the offense must find a way to produce some fireworks of its own if this team has any shot of contending for an FCS championship.
09/25 22:43:53 ET