FRISCO, Texas (STATS) – James Madison played all season as if it knew something the rest of the FCS didn’t know, but on Saturday, there was no denying who’s the best team in the nation.
Sorry, Fargo, it’s all purple reign this season.
Bryan Schor threw for two touchdowns and Khalid Abdullah rushed for 101 yards and two scores as the CAA Football champion Dukes handled Youngstown State 28-14 to claim the program’s second FCS national title before 14,423 at Toyota Stadium.
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The Dukes’ fans reveled throughout the one-sided game, and why not considering their team’s accomplishments. Having already ended North Dakota State’s five-year national championship run in the semifinals, the Dukes (14-1) beat their chest in the final – and some Youngstown State ball carriers as well – to complete coach Mike Houston’s first season with a national title. They previously won in 2004.
“This team won (a JMU-record) 14 games this year,” Houston said. “They went undefeated in CAA play. They beat North Dakota State at North Dakota State. They won a national championship on a big stage. I think they go as the best team in JMU history – hands down.”
“This,” senior linebacker Gage Steele said, “is going to be a moment that we talk about for the rest of our lives.”
Coming into the season, James Madison simply wanted to win one playoff game, let alone the four it took as the No. 4 seed. The Dukes underachieved in the last two postseasons, losing at home in their opening game. But after Houston arrived from The Citadel, he demanded more discipline and physical play out of the Dukes, and they eventually molded into the most complete team in the FCS.
Losing only to FBS team North Carolina in mid-September, the Dukes won their final 12 games behind a physical run game, an athletic, opportunistic defense and a deadly return game.
It was all on display against Youngstown State (12-4), which sought to add to its four national titles in the 1990s. James Madison controlled the surge at the line of scrimmage – offensively and defensively – which allowed Schor and Abdullah to feed off each other and Steele (two sacks) to swarm Youngstown State quarterback Hunter Wells.
The Dukes made big plays early to grab control of the game.
Justin Wellons’ blocked punt to end Youngstown State’s first drive set up the Dukes at the Penguins’ 18-yard line. Two plays later, Schor threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jonathan Kloosterman (his fifth TD catch of the playoffs) at the 11:20 mark.
A poor YSU punt then gave the Dukes the ball at midfield. Abdullah cut back for a 30-yard run before Schor connected with Rashard Davis for an 18-yard touchdown pass, making it 14-0 with 9:37 left.
“Obviously, it didn’t start the way we wanted,” Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini said.
“This isn’t a time to point fingers.”
In the second quarter, Schor and his wide receivers picked apart the YSU secondary for four completions as part of an eight-play, 87-yard drive that was capped by Abdullah’s 1-yard touchdown run, which extended the Dukes’ lead to 21-0 with 8:17 remaining.
While Youngstown State closed within 21-7 before halftime on Wells’ 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Shane Kuhn, the unseeded Penguins’ hopes for a comeback ended early in the second half. On the third play, a Wells pass deflected high into the air and cornerback Curtis Oliver intercepted it at the Youngstown State 47. The Dukes then steamrolled downfield in six plays, with Abdullah scoring from two yards out for his 25th touchdown of the season, making it 28-7.
Abdullah, named the game’s most outstanding player, finished the season with 1,809 rushing yards, a James Madison record.
“It means everything,” Abdullah said. “It just means that all the dreams and goals we had team came to fruition.”
Youngstown State, averaging 257.5 rushing yards, didn’t solve the Dukes’ defensive front, which turned the Penguins one-dimensional in the second half. Wells (28 of 47, 281 yards) threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Wells with 10 seconds left to tighten the final score at 28-14, but the game wasn’t that close.