Top seed JMU survives Weber State on last-play FG
(STATS) – The purple elephant in Bridgeforth Stadium was that James Madison hadn’t trailed in the fourth quarter for even a second this season.
To have that happen for the first time in the FCS playoffs was always going to put extreme pressure on the Dukes.
Yet the No. 1 seed showed the heart of a defending national champion Friday night, rallying from behind twice in the final quarter to survive Weber State 31-28 on redshirt freshman Ethan Ratke’s game-ending, 46-yard field goal in a national quarterfinal in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“We practice that every Thursday – the two-minute drill,” Ratke said. “I wasn’t really thinking anything, I just trusted my holder and snapper at the line to basically do most of the work for me, and I just had to put it in.”
James Madison (13-0) will take a 25-game winning streak – second-longest in FCS history – into the semifinal they will host next weekend against New Hampshire (9-4) or No. 5 seed South Dakota State (10-2), who meet in a quarterfinal on Saturday.
A mesmerized 13,490 watched an epic fourth quarter unfold in the first meeting of the two programs. They combined for 35 points in the quarter.
CAA Football champ James Madison trailed 14-10 after three quarters, went back ahead, lost the lead again and came back from a 28-20 deficit on Bryan Schor’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Riley Stapleton and Trai Sharp’s 2-point run with 2:08 left.
After stopping Weber State three-and-out, the Dukes got the ball back at their 31 with 1:06 left. Coach Mike Houston’s squad ran eight plays on the final drive, including a pair of Schor-to-Stapleton completions, and won the game on Ratke’s career-long field goal.
Weber State (11-3) had its season end with a school record for wins, but the potential biggest one escaped the Big Sky co-champ. James Madison hadn’t allowed more than 14 points previously and it limited the Wildcats to only 40 offensive yards on 26 plays in the first half, but the visitors went ahead 14-10 midway through the third quarter to change the complexion of the game. Running back Kevin Smith caught an over-the-shoulder pass from Stefan Cantwell as he split two defenders near midfield and raced along the Dukes’ sideline for an 81-yard touchdown.
Cantwell added another touchdown pass and a scoring run in the fourth quarter as part of his 285 yards of total offense.
Schor, often under pressure from pass rushers, was 21 of 45 for 359 yards, throwing an interception on the game’s first drive to set up an easy Weber State score. Marcus Marshall had 14 carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns, while Stapleton tied his career high with eight receptions for a personal-best 189 yards.