HARRISONBURG, Va. – For nearly 57 minutes, the Tiger defense held James Madison University quarterback Justin Thorpe in check. However, Thorpe directed an impressive 79-yard, eight-play drive in the final minutes as the No. 5 Dukes (4-1, 2-0) came from behind to edge the No. 12 Tigers (2-3, 1-1), 13-10, at Bridgeforth Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
After trailing by 6-3 for most of the game, the Tigers marched 92 yards in 14 plays to grab a 10-6 lead with 3:21 remaining in the game. Senior quarterback Grant Enders, who scored the go-ahead touchdown on a seven-yard run, completed all six passes on the drive for 61 yards. With 3:21 remaining, Enders kept the ball on a naked bootleg, giving the Tigers their first lead of the game.
The Dukes responded with their game-winning drive as Thorpe completed all six passes for 60 yards. JMU reached the nine-yard line where Thorpe dropped back to pass, felt the pressure and scrambled for a nine-yard touchdown. That gave the Dukes a 13-10 lead with 1:24 left.
“Justin Thorpe was a nightmare for me all week,” said Towson Coach Rob Ambrose. “His ability to pass and run presents a challenge for opposing defenses. We did a great job containing him for most of the game. Our defense played very well. It’s been a tough 14-day period for our team. We just ran out of juice at the end.”
Until the final ten minutes, the game was a defensive struggle between two nationally-ranked teams. The Dukes took a 6-3 lead in the first half and maintained that lead until 10:45 remained. At that point, the Tiger offense found its rhythm and put together one of its best drives of the season. When Enders completed a 23-yard pass to Spencer Wilkins, the Tigers had a first down at the JMU seven-yard line. Moments later, Enders scored on a naked bootleg for the first touchdown of the game.
After the Dukes took a 13-10 lead, the Tigers tried to respond but Dean Marlowe’s second interception of the game ended Towson’s comeback hopes.
“Towson really gave us all we could handle,” said JMU Coach Mickey Matthews. “Their defense played very well and kept us off the field. It seemed like we hardly had the ball in the third quarter. Towson is a much better defensive team than last season. Fortunately, we came through at the end with the winning drive.”
Although the Tigers piled up 317 yards of total offense while holding JMU to 256 yards, they were hurt by turnovers. Towson turned the ball over three times while JMU had no turnovers.
Sophomore Terrance West led the Tiger running game with 112 yards on 28 carries, his second 100-yard game of the season. Enders completed 20 of 32 passes for 147 yards but he was intercepted twice.
Thorpe completed 11 of 19 passes for 116 yards. He also ran for 27 yards on nine carries and scored the game-winning touchdown.
On the opening drive of the game, the Tigers moved the ball to the James Madison 35-yard line where they faced a fourth-down and four. But, linebacker Stephon Robertson broke up a pass intended for Wilkins as the Dukes took over possession.
Late in the first quarter, the Dukes forced a punt and took over at their own 41-yard line. Using a no-huddle offense, JMU moved into Towson territory on five running plays. But, the Tiger defense stiffened and senior Romale Tucker nailed tailback Dae’quan Scott for a two-yard loss. With the wind at his back, junior Cameron Starke kicked a career-long 49-yard field goal, giving the Dukes a 3-0 lead with 1:15 left in the first quarter.
After forcing a Tiger punt, the Dukes moved deep into Towson territory early in the second quarter. The Dukes faced fourth down-and-one at the Towson 14-yard line. The Dukes gambled and went for it. But, senior safety Jordan Dangerfield and junior linebacker Monte Gaddis broke through and nailed senior Hykeem Brodie for a two-yard loss as Towson took over on downs.
The first turnover of the game, an interception by Marlowe at the JMU 44-yard line, helped JMU extend its lead. With the help of a 15-yard penalty, the Dukes moved deep into Towson territory. Facing fourth-and-one at the Towson four-yard line, the Dukes brought in the field goal team. Starke booted a 21-yard field goal to up the Dukes’ lead to 6-0 late in the second quarter.
Junior Jordan Love gave the Tigers a spark when he returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to the Tigers’ 46-yard line. With the first half winding down, the Tigers reached the Dukes’ 23-yard line. With 11 seconds remaining in the first half, junior D.J. Soven kicked a 40-yard field goal, cutting the Towson deficit to 6-3.
Defense continued to dominate the game in the third quarter. In the first 12 minutes of the second half, JMU punted three times and Towson punted twice.
The Tigers, who lost for only the second time in their last ten CAA games, return to action next Saturday night when they host Maine at 7:00 p.m.