Put Dukes and Colonels together with a battle of Norfolk and you produce a victorious Colonial weekend.
By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
ODU at NSU
The battle of Norfolk was a tank battle between the US Army and the Iraqi Republican Guard during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. It served as the final battle before the unilateral cease fire that ended the conflict. After seeing the result from the similarly named FCS playoff game between Old Dominion and Norfolk State, I can't be sure which was a more lopsided matchup.
I had mentioned in last week's preview that I didn't expect the Spartans to be the team to finally break through for the MEAC, but I expected a better effort than the one given before a capacity crowd at Foreman Field on Saturday. Instead, the MEAC champions rolled up an astounding 18 penalties and quarterback Chris Walley threw two costly interceptions as the Monarchs ultimately rolled to victory.
The game actually started out well for the Spartans as Walley shocked the home crowd with a 98-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Demps on their first possession. The 7-0 lead was largely the result of two Monarchs defensive backs colliding and taking each other out of the play. Undeterred, though, the 12th Monarch, as the ODU crowd has come to be known, would disrupt Walley the rest of the day while everyone got a good luck at another edition of the Taylore Heinicke show.
Over the course of the next two and a half quarters, the freshman signal-caller led the Monarchs to 35 unanswered points as he threw for five touchdown passes. The performance was even more precocious when put in the context of the first playoff game in Old Dominion history. Nick Mayers and Prentice Gill were the targets for two scoring strikes apiece while Larry Pinkard collected one score. Heinicke finished 21-30 for 269 yards before Thomas Demarco came in to mop up in the 4th quarter.
The 35-7 lead entering the last stanza allowed coach Bobby Wilder to rest his starters, a welcome break for a group that heads to Georgia Southern next weekend. Including their bye week to close the regular season, the Monarchs will have only played 3 quarters of live football in three weeks heading to Statesboro, meaning they will be rested and ready to play the Eagles and the vaunted triple-option. We will preview that game later this week.
JMU at EKU
As the crow flies, it's not that far from Harrisonburg, Va to Richmond, Kentucky, but it takes a while because of several twist and turns a long the way. It was a fitting journey, then, for the James Madison Dukes, who've faced their own course corrections during this season. Mickey Matthews is no stranger to playing on the road in the FCS playoffs, and this group headed into a first-round matchup with Eastern Kentucky hoping to channel some of the magic of the road warrior group that won the national championship in 2004.
Facing a Colonels team built to play the same kind of physical, run-oriented style that the Dukes favor, the game figured to be a low-scoring, conservative affair and the first-half was no surprise. After trading punts on the first four possessions, Justin Bell returned the second JMU kick 75 yards to the Dukes 16 yard line. However, two plays later, the JMU defense stepped up and Leavander Jones picked of TJ Pryor at the goalline for a touchback.
The Dukes took the momentum and marched 80 yards in 14 plays while taking nearly 7 minutes off the clock. Ten of the plays were runs and Jordan Anderson finished things off by punching it in from the one-yard line for a 7-0 lead.
However, the Ohio Valley co-champs weren't going to roll over and, after trading punts for some good field position at the JMU 48, the Colonels covered the yardage in 7 plays before H.B. Banjoman scored from a yard out to even the score at 7. (if you can't appreciate someone named Banjoman playing in Kentucky, then I can't help you.)
JMU's next possession stalled on downs at the EKU 38 after Thorpe was sacked on fourth-and-six and the teams traded punts before Eastern Kentucky took over at their 40 with 1:44 left in the half. Behind four completions from Pryor, the Colonels moved to the JMU 30 before Luke Pray drilled one from 48 yards for a 10-7 halftime lead.
The Dukes came out for the second half ready to make a statement and took 7 minutes off the clock in a 14 play drive that ended with a Cameron Starke field goal attempt from 36 yards. The kick was called no good although there were many that thought it had just slipped inside the upright. On the CAA conference call this morning, though, Mickey Matthews had no problem with the official's call, a stance surely made easier by the ultimate outcome of the game.
Three plays later, however, the game appeared to get away from James Madison. First, Pryor hit Cameron Bailey for 15 yards, then workhorse back Matt Denham busted loose and rumbled 66 yards to the JMU on-yard line. When Banjoman converted again, the Colonels had a 17-7 lead and the home crowd was fired up. Little did they know that with 6 minutes left in the third quarter they would have nothing else to cheer about.
The last 21 minutes of the game were a clinic in physical football. First, the Dukes went 11 plays in 5:28 and settled for a Starke field goal from 21 and a 17-10 deficit. After forcing a three and out, they went 76 yards in 8 plays, the last five of which were runs that covered 54 yards. When Jordan Anderson covered the last 24 yards for the score, the game was tied at 17-17.
The JMU defense forced two more punts while holding the Colonels to -9 yards and the offense took over at their 36 with 5:45 left. In a clinically efficient late-game drive, the Dukes never put the ball in the air and moved 45 yards on 11 straight runs to advance to the Eastern Kentucky 19. After the Colonels tried to ice him, Starke calmly converted for the 20-17 win and a trip to Fargo, North Dakota this Satruday to play the Bison of North Dakota State.
In the end, James Madison was simply the more physical team and wore down their Ohio Valley conference opponent as the game wore on. The domination in the second half was complete and total, except for the two plays that led to the Colonels only score of the second half.
Mickey Matthews was extremely proud of the character and class that his team showed in not getting rattled by the deficit on the road. The win will toughen up a squad that feels like it's finally playing it's best football as it heads to take on another physical team on the high plains next week. North Dakota State will offer a stouter test than Eastern Kentucky but the Dukes will be ready.