James Madison rallies past Eastern Kentucky to open playoffs
Richmond, KY – James Madison apparently isn't content with being in the FCS playoffs. The Dukes are playing to win.
JMU converted a risky fourth-down attempt in the game's final two minutes to set up Cameron Starke's game-winning, 35-yard field goal on the final play of a 20-17 victory over Eastern Kentucky in the first round of the playoffs Saturday.
The 17th-ranked Dukes (8-4), who overcame a 17-7 third-quarter deficit in their third straight win, advanced to the second round, where they will play No. 2 seed North Dakota State (10-1) in Fargo, N.D., on Dec. 3 (4 p.m. ET kickoff).
Jordan Anderson rushed for two touchdowns and the Dukes controlled the ball for 21 more minutes than Eastern Kentucky (7-5), but the game's pivotal play occurred on their final drive.
With James Madison facing 4th-and-2 from the EKU 43 with 1:34 left, David Skahn came onto the field for what appeared to be a punt. But during an EKU timeout, Dukes coach Mickey Matthews sent his offense back to the field.
The Dukes then converted a first down on Dae'Quan Scott's 4-yard run to the Colonels' 39.
James Madison ran five more carries to the EKU 19 and called a timeout with one second remaining. The Colonels tried to ice Starke with two more timeouts, but he nailed the 35-yarder for the win.
In the first meeting between the two programs, a small crowd of 2,388 at Roy Kidd Stadium watched James Madison outgain EKU 393-213 by controlling the clock for 40 minutes, 30 seconds.
The Dukes, one of five playoff teams from CAA Football, overcame a 17-7 deficit. Starke's 21-yard field goal with 27 seconds left in the third quarter cut EKU's lead to 17-10 before the Dukes tied the game at 17 on Anderson's 24- yard touchdown run with 10:01 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Eastern Kentucky overcame a 1-3 start to its regular season by winning six of its final seven games and earn a share of the Ohio Valley Conference title. But the Colonels' loss extended the OVC's losing streak in the playoffs to 17 games since 2000.
The Colonels scored 17 unanswered points to overcome a 7-0 second-quarter deficit.
Goal-line back H.B. Banjoman scored on 1-yard touchdown runs in both the second and third quarters, sandwiched around Luke Pray's 48-yard field goal to end the first half.
The Colonels wasted an excellent scoring opportunity midway through the first quarter. Justin Bell's 75-yard punt return set up his offense at the JMU 16. But Dukes cornerback Leavander Jones intercepted a T.J. Pryor pass in the end zone to deny the Colonels with 5:50 left.
James Madison then put together an 80-yard touchdown drive, spanning nearly seven minutes of the first and second quarters, and capped by Anderson's 1- yard run to make it 7-0 with 13:55 left in the half.
The Dukes had a 24-8 advantage in first downs and rushed for 244 yards on 68 carries. Quarterback Justin Thorpe led the way with 93 yards on 28 carries, Scott rushed for 75 yards on 24 carries and Anderson added 71 yards on 15 carries.
Eastern Kentucky junior Matt Denham rushed for 125 yards on 17 carries to extend his streak of 100-yard games to eight. His performance included a 66- yard carry which set up Banjoman's second touchdown.
Patrick McClellan had a game-high 16 tackles in the loss.
James Madison evened its all-time playoff record at 9-9. EKU fell to 16-18.