No. 7 JMU fends off Blue Hens

By Andy Walter
Posted 10/23/21

NEWARK — Two quarters into Saturday’s matchup, Delaware had James Madison right where it wanted the Dukes.

Well, at least the stumbling Blue Hens were doing the things required to have …

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No. 7 JMU fends off Blue Hens


NEWARK — Two quarters into Saturday’s matchup, Delaware had James Madison right where it wanted the Dukes.

Well, at least the stumbling Blue Hens were doing the things required to have a chance against the No. 7 FCS team in the country.

Delaware had limited JMU to three field goals, found a way to score a touchdown itself and owned a one-point halftime advantage.

But the Dukes are too good to let a one-dimensional team beat them.

JMU tallied 13 unanswered second-half points and held the Hens to just 109 yards in the contest to put away a 22-10 CAA victory over No. 23 Delaware before a homecoming crowd of 15,783 on a sometimes-rainy Saturday afternoon.

The third straight loss for the Hens (2-3 CAA, 3-4 overall) knocked them under .500 and means they’d have to win their final four games to even dream about making the NCAA FCS playoffs.

The fact that Delaware’s defense dominated at times — limiting JMU (4-1 CAA, 6-1 overall) to a school-record five field goals and only one touchdown — wasn’t nearly enough to keep the Hens from losing their fifth in a row to the Dukes. And with JMU apparently poised to join the Sun Belt Conference and move up to FBS, this might be how the rivalry ends.

“Going into the locker room at halftime, it was a good feeling,” said Delaware coach Danny Rocco. “I thought our guys were really confident. I think we had a real sense of belief and confidence that we were going to be able to go out there, finish this game and find a way to win.

“I think the defense played well enough for us to win. Offensively, we struggled. We could not run the ball. It made it more difficult for (quarterback) Zach (Gwynn) and our passing game. Statistically, offensively, we were really, really bad today. We’re going to have to take a hard look at what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with moving forward.”

The game’s pivotal moment came late in the third quarter.

Delaware trailed only 12-10 and finally had some good field position, at its own 48. But, on second down, Gwynn fumbled on a sack.

Three plays later, a Blue Hen defender bit on a run fake and Dukes’ QB Cole Johnson sprinted in untouched on a 36-yard bootleg.

The TD stretched JMU’s lead to 19-10 with 1:01 left in the third quarter and Delaware never seriously challenged again.

“I think our whole defense played hard,” said linebacker Johnny Buchanan, who finished with a career-high 13 tackles. “We’ve got to clean some things up for sure but the guys gave great effort.”

“I give Delaware credit, they played physical on defense,” said JMU coach Curt Cignetti. “We had to earn that one.”

Delaware’s three-game slide coincides with the time that starting QB Nolan Henderson was lost for the season with a hernia. The Hens are also now missing linebacker Colby Reeder and center Mickey Henry, among others.

On Saturday, Gwynn completed only 6-of-20 passes for 85 yards with two interceptions and the fumble against the CAA’s top defense.

On the other hand, Gwynn did toss a nice 26-yard scoring pass to sophomore receiver James Collins to put the Hens ahead, 10-6, with 11:03 left before halftime. It was Collins’ first career touchdown.

“We got that one-on-one matchup with James,” said Gwynn. “He’s a fast kid. We had opportunities to do it a lot more — they cut a couple guys loose early in the game. I wasn’t able to deliver the ball to those open guys.

“I thought we were on the right track and fell off a little as the game went on. That starts with me. I’ve got to be better at preparing.”

On its final 10 possessions, Delaware netted just 70 yards with eight punts and two turnovers. The Hens ran for only 24 yards and were just 2-of-13 on third-down conversions.

Rocco said the Dukes’ defense had a lot to do with Delaware’s offensive struggles. The Hens’ coach talked about the toll of playing a spring and fall season back-to-back.

Like Delaware, JMU also reached the FCS semifinals in the spring. Both squads have played 15 games this calendar year.

“It’s taken the steam out of a number of teams that had pretty good spring seasons,” said Rocco. “Now he (Cignetti) is obviously winning a lot of games this year so it hasn’t taken (away) the same steam. It’s difficult. It’s unprecedented.

“That’s the first question he asked me. He said, ‘How many games have you played since whatever date?’ I said, ‘A lot.’ It is real. ... It’s a combination of physical, emotional, mental. There was never a definitive break in the action.”

As for Delaware’s offense, Gwynn said all the Hens can do is go back to practice and try to fix the problems before next Saturday.

“As an offense, the toughest thing to do is look in hindsight,” he said. “We’ll do that tomorrow, we’ll watch all the film. But as soon as that film is over, we’re back to work.

“We’re excited to win some games this year. We need to get things back on the right track.”

Extra points

Safety Kedrick Whitehead (Middletown) had a game-high 15 tackles. ... Ethan Ratke hit the five field goals for JMU, with the kicks ranging from 30 to 47 yards ... Ryan Coe nailed a 51-yard field goal for Delaware. ... Blue Hen cornerback Amonte Strothers had his second interception of the season. ... Gwynn has now thrown six interceptions against four TD passes this fall. ... The Dukes lead the all-time series, 13-12. ... Delaware continues its three-game home stretch by hosting Dixie State on Saturday at 1 p.m.