James Madison’s Road to Frisco for a Second Straight Season

This year, James Madison is back in Frisco for a second straight season and will match-up against North Dakota State—the team that they knocked off in the semi-final playoff round a season ago. We’ll review how the Dukes come into this game with a 14-0 record and some the factors and reasons that they are playing again in Frisco at Toyota Stadium this year.

How were the Dukes viewed in the preseason?
We felt that JMU would likely win the Colonial Athletic Association again this year with the toughest competition coming from Villanova, Richmond, Albany, and New Hampshire.

The preseason poll by the coaches, media, and sports information directors within the CAA also selected the Dukes in their poll pretty much in a run a way.

How did JMU finish 11-0 within the 2017 regular season?
The Dukes started their season against a FBS opponent but showed who was boss in a 34-14 drubbing of the Pirates. JMU was led by senior running back Cardon Johnson in that contest where he posted 265 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The game really was never in doubt as the Dukes broke out to a 7-0 first half lead and poured in on in the second half to win easily.


Next came two lower level FCS opponents in East Tennessee State and Norfolk State. The Dukes won these two contest by a combined score of 127-24 in which neither were really a contest. One item in the Norfolk State contest, however, was that JMU lost Johnson at the running back position for the season with Cardon Johnson, JMU’s leading rusher, who would miss the remainder of the season because of a lower-leg injury suffered in the 75-14 win over Norfolk State

The conference schedule followed with a pair of fairly close contest against Maine and Delaware, where both were not settled until the final quarter. JMU would defeat Maine 28-10 and Delaware 20-10. Marcus Marshall would pick up the running back slack missed by Johnson’s injury in rushing for 135 in the Maine game and Trai Sharp in the Delaware game with 185 yards.

The next four games would be easy wins over Villanova, William & Mary, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island where 21 points was the closest margin of victory (over New Hampshire in a 21-0 shutout).

Then came the closest regular season win.

The Dukes would defeat Richmond in this win but just by a seven point margin in a 20-13 defense slugfest. Junior running back Sharp scored the game-winning touchdown with 44 seconds remaining as JMU survived a Colonial Athletic Association thriller.

The Dukes would end the season in a CAA showdown for the CAA automatic bid against Elon on the road and JMU won this game easily—31-3. The win secured the undefeated regular season and wrapped up the #1 overall seed in the playoffs.

How did James Madison win its opening round playoff game?
James Madison tied a Division I program record with five interceptions and senior quarterback Bryan Schor threw a pair of touchdown passes, as the Dukes advanced to the quarterfinal round of the NCAA FCS Playoffs with a 26-7 victory against fellow CAA member Stony Brook to open the playoff run.

The Dukes improved to 12-0 on the season to extend their NCAA Division I-leading win streak to 24 straight games, while the Seawolves saw their season end at 10-3, which matched their highest win total in school history.

JMU won to move on to face Weber State I the quarterfinals.

How did the Dukes beat Weber State in the quarterfinal round?
JMU found the toughest opponent to date in the Big Sky’s Wildcats in visiting Harrisonburg.

Trailing 28-20 with 3:14 to play, JMU needed only four plays to go 52 when senior quarterback Bryan Schor connected with redshirt sophomore receiver Riley Stapleton on a 40-yard touchdown with 2:08 remaining. Junior running back Trai Sharp tied it up with a successful 2-point conversion rush.

JMU forced Weber into a three-and-out, giving the Dukes the ball back with 1:06 left. Schor found Stapleton on a 17-yard pass, setting them up at the WSU 39. Three plays later, Head Coach Mike Houston called timeout with one second left, setting up Ratke’s game-winner, which was not just his career long but also the longest field goal in JMU postseason history.

See a detailed game review here.

How did James Madison defeat South Dakota State in the semi-final round?
James Madison scored on a quick drive in the final minute of the first half and added a 30-point burst in the third quarter to cruise past #5 seeded South Dakota State 51-16 in the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs at Bridgeforth Stadium.

The Dukes forced an astounding 10 turnovers in the route of the second place Missouri Valley Football Conference Jackrabbits.

The win propelled the Dukes to the national title game against NDSU—JMU’s second straight appearance in the championship contest.

What is the prior history of postseason play for James Madison?
JMU will be making its third appearance in the championship game with wins in 2004 and last year.

Overall, JMU has now competed in 14 FCS postseasons and also were a semi-finalist in 2008 before losing to Montana that season at home.

Those four seasons of 2004, 2008, 2016, and this 2017 season showed the best results within the playoffs.

James Madison has been a FCS member for the entire 40-year history of the sub-division with 1987 being the first year the Dukes made the playoffs.

Ready for Frisco

JMU again a relatively deep team and like last year’s championship run, it has gelled in the playoffs—despite the scare from Weber State in the quarterfinal round.

The following are some of this year’s gaudy statististics:

  • Scoring offense: 35.9 points per game (eighth in the nation)
  • Scoring defense: 10.7 points allowed per game (first)
  • Passing offense: 230.2 yards per game (41st)
  • Rushing offense: 201.5 yards per game (19th)
  • Turnover margin: +24 (first)

We shall see January 6th in Frisco if the Dukes will hoist their third Division I trophy against five time champion North Dakota State–the team they defeated 27-17 in route to the title last year.