FRISCO, Tex. — James Madison defeated Youngstown State 28-14 on Saturday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas in front of 14.423 in attendance to secure the second Division I FCS title in school history.
JMU was playing in the title match for the first time since winning its only championship in 2004, when the school won its only other title.
The four-time champion Youngstown State (12-4), who finished their second season with Youngstown native Bo Pelini as their coach, made it to the title game for the first time since 1999. Its four titles came during the 1990s under Jim Tressel, now the school’s president after winning a national championship at Ohio State in 2002.
Under first-year coach Mike Houston, JMU (14-1) completed a perfect run to win the Colonial Athletic Association before rattling off three wins in the playoffs to reach the title game and ending the season on a 12-game winning streak.
“We knew we had the team to do it,” running back Khalid Abdullah said, “so the fact that we were able to go out here and get it accomplished is something that we’ll remember forever.”
The Dukes were led by the formula that got them to the championship game – the running game, defense, and special-teams play.
The Dukes’ special-teams play is what got JMU an early lead.
JMU tight end Jonathan Kloosterman hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass from Bryan Schor with 12:10 to go in the first quarter. but was set up by JMU linebacker Justin Wellons’ blocked punt to put the Dukes’ offense in Penguins’ territory. It was the second blocked punt of the postseason for JMU, the other coming against Sam Houston State.
Rashard Davis caught a scoring pass to make it 14-0 later in the 1st quarter. The senior wide receiver led the team with three catches for 52 yards in the game.
The Dukes led wire-to-wire in the FCS Finals after jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the first half against the Penguins after senior running back Khalid Abdullah scored on a 1-yard run with 8:17 to go in the second quarter to put JMU up 21-0.
Youngstown State narrowed the gap to 21-7 just before halftime when quarterback Hunter Wells hit Shane Kuhn from 17 yards out.
Youngstown State also received the opening second half kickoff but on a bazar play where Wells attempted to throw to Damoun Patterson but the pass hit Patterson in the foot and bounced up where Curtis Oliver from JMU swiped the ball for an interception.
Eight plays following the turnover, Abdullah plunged into the end zone from two yards away to put JMU up 28-7 with 10:10 left in the third quarter.
The two defenses were the stars after this point until Youngstown State scored with just 10 second left. Wells hit Jeramiah Braswell from seven yards out to make the score 28-14.
The YSU on-sides kick was recovered by JMU and one kneel down made the Dukes this year’s champions.
The James Madison defense held YSU to just 21 yards on 31 carries (0.7 yards per carry), and also forced three turnovers.
“They’re a good football team and the way we started, it didn’t help,” Pelini said. “It happens. These are young kids and that’s the way the game goes.”
Wells for the Penguins finished with 271 yards passing with the two touchdowns and the one interception.
Running back Jody Webb led the Penguins with 10 receptions for 63 yards – both career highs – and Alvin Bailey had seven catches for 60 yards.
Schor for the Dukes completed just 7-of-12 passes for 112 yards but had two touchdowns.
Abdullah finished with 101 rushing yards and was named the games’ most valuable player. He finished with a program record 45 scores in his career. He also finished the season with a school-record 1,809 yards rushing and an FBS-best 22 touchdowns.
In each of the last two seasons, Madison suffered one-and-done exits from the postseason, but made its deepest run this year since winning its last national title.
“I think they go down as the best team in JMU history, hands down,” said Houston.