Thorpe returns for Dukes in a 42-10 loss to UNC

Thorpe returns for Dukes in a 42-10 loss to UNC

Published Sep. 3, 2011 10:18 p.m. ET

Justin Thorpe felt a little beat up after playing in his first game in a year for James Madison. At least he gave Dukes coach Mickey Matthews some reason for optimism about his recovery.

After going down in last year's opener with a knee injury, Thorpe returned to the starting lineup and threw for 152 yards and a touchdown in the Dukes' 42-10 loss at North Carolina on Saturday.

''I feel like I just played in a football game - like I was in a train wreck,'' Thorpe said. ''I'm going to have to take this feeling and know I'm going to feel like this every week. I have to get used to it.''

Thorpe was the rookie of the year in the Colonial Athletic Association two seasons ago, but he was hurt when he took a hit to the left kneecap late in the first half of a lopsided win against Morehead State. He got a rude welcome back Saturday against a North Carolina defense featuring several NFL prospects.


On Thorpe's first play, he and tailback Dae'Quan Scott ran into each other on a handoff to start a three-and-out series. The next possession started at the Dukes' own 1-yard line and ended with another three-and-out. By the time Thorpe found Brian Barlow for an 11-yard gain and James Madison's first first down, the Tar Heels led 14-0.

Thorpe had a 41-yard scoring pass to Daniel Brown late in the half and directed a 10-minute drive in the third quarter that ended with a field goal. But the Dukes managed just 211 total yards and never came close to repeating last season's road upset of Virginia Tech.

''I thought Justin played pretty well the longer the game went,'' Matthews said.

For North Carolina, sophomore Bryn Renner threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns in Everett Withers' debut as interim coach.

Renner completed 22 of 23 passes, with his only mistake being an interception on a deep ball in the second quarter. The sophomore completed his first eight passes - including a 34-yard scoring strike to Dwight Jones to cap the game's opening drive - and hit on his last 14 to tie a school record for most consecutive completions in a game and ending his day with a 21-yard TD toss to Jones midway through the fourth.

Renner also set an Atlantic Coast Conference record for highest single-game completion percentage (95.7) and finished just shy of the NCAA mark (95.8 percent) set by Tennessee's Tee Martin against South Carolina in 1998. He also had a touchdown on a sneak early in the fourth, a successful start as he replaces graduated four-year starter T.J. Yates.

Withers had spent the past three seasons as defensive coordinator before taking over when the school unexpectedly fired Butch Davis a week before training camp. Chancellor Holden Thorp said there had been too much cumulative damage to the university's reputation amid the NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct within the program, a decision that handed Withers his first head-coaching position in 24 seasons in college and the NFL.

In fact, Withers' debut was eerily similar to Davis' debut four years earlier. That also came against James Madison, with the Tar Heels breaking in a first-time starter in Yates and scoring the first 24 points en route to a 30-7 halftime lead and a 37-14 victory.

This time, the Tar Heels scored the first 21 points and led 28-7 at half when James Madison kicker Cameron Starke plunked the right upright on a 20-yard field goal just before the break.

Afterward, Withers said the team would send a game ball to Davis.