No. 1 JMU shows no rust, routs William & Mary

Marty O'Brien, The Virginian-Pilot
·3 min read

WILLIAMSBURG — James Madison provided emphatic confirmation of its No. 1 Football Championship Subdivision ranking Saturday, throttling William & Mary 38-10 in a Colonial Athletic Association game at Zable Stadium.

The Dukes (4-0), unfazed by a two-week layoff due to COVID protocols, broke the game open by scoring on their first four possessions. Three of the touchdowns came with ease on drives of 75 yards or more, engineered by the arm of quarterback Cole Johnson, and the other on a faked field goal.

“They’re the No. 1 team in FCS, they proved it and showed it today,” William & Mary coach Mike London said. “They did a lot of really good things today and we didn’t do enough to add up to be competitive against this team.”

The Tribe (1-2) entered the game short-handed offensively, minus top-two running backs Owen Wright and Donavyn Lester for a second consecutive game. They were joined on the sidelines by quarterback Hollis Mathis and running back Malachi Imoh, who accounted for 381 of 417 total yards, and all of the touchdowns, in a 31-10 victory over Elon a week earlier.

But that probably mattered only in terms of the final margin because the Dukes were dominant offensively and defensively. Johnson, a Cox High graduate, riddled the Tribe defense short and long, over the middle on the perimeter, completing 13 of 18 passes for 189 yards in the first half.

The Dukes threw mostly short punches in softening up the Tribe defense on their 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game. But Johnson did complete a 24-yard pass to Antwane Wells on a post before hitting tight end Clayton Cheatham for 6 yards and a touchdown to make it 7-0.

Johnson (16-of-22 passing, 220 yards) went long on JMU’s second possession, completing passes of 17, 25 and 22 yards to set up Jawon Hamilton’s 5-yard touchdown run. Things got worse for W&M a play later as preseason All-American defensive end Mike Greene pressured Tribe quarterback Ted Hefter into an interception.

That gave the Dukes possession at the Tribe 11, but the W&M defense stiffened, forcing an apparent field-goal attempt when linebacker Tyler Crist batted down a pass on third-and-6. That was a rarity for the Tribe in the first half as the Dukes went 6 of 8 on third-down conversions and converted on fourth down on their only try.

The fourth-down conversion was the faked field goal. Holder Alex Miller ran 7 yards for a touchdown to give JMU a 21-0 lead with 1:20 left in the first quarter.

Johnson completed all five pass attempts on the Dukes’ next possession, an 84-yard touchdown march that took nine plays. Hamilton’s 4-yard touchdown run made it 28-0 with 7:57 to play in the first half.

William & Mary’s offense had no answers to the JMU onslaught. Led by middle linebacker Kelvin Azanama (10 solo tackles), who had five tackles and a sack in the first half, the Dukes limited the Tribe to 134 yards and a pair of field-goal attempts in the first two quarters.

Ethan Chang made the second of those, from 29 yards, and the Tribe trailed 28-3 at intermission. JMU was, if anything, as dominant in the third quarter, scoring its 10 points by mostly running the ball on its two possessions and stifling the Tribe to 8 yards on its three possessions.

A continuing bright spot for the Tribe has been the play of wide receiver Cole Blackman, a transfer by way of Virginia and Illinois State. He had four receptions for 39 yards and has 12 for 194 yards in three games.

Hefter’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Seth Dunn against JMU’s reserves late in the game are the only points the Dukes have given up in the second half this season. The Tribe netted just 53 yards in the second half.