It’s been almost 15 years since the James Madison Dukes played a football game at Finley Stadium, but the results were the same both times.
It was a cold day on December 17, 2004 when the Dukes rallied to defeat Montana for an NCAA 1-AA National Championship with a hard-fought 31-21 victory. They have since won another national title in 2016, but that game wasn’t in Chattanooga.
The stakes weren’t quite as high on Saturday afternoon, but the visitors from Harrisonburg, Va. showed why they’re ranked second behind North Dakota State in the latest FCS Top 25 poll.
James Madison lost its season opener against West Virginia, but have now won three straight games, including Saturday’s 37-14 against the Chattanooga Mocs.
UTC, on the other hand, opened the season with a 24-10 win against a not-very-good Eastern Illinois team before dropping three straight, including road games at Jacksonville State (40-21) and Tennessee (45-0).
“I’m glad that we were in a game like this because I wanted to see how we’d respond to adversity,” said first-year James Madison head coach Curt Cignetti shortly after the game ended.
“We had a couple of quick scores to start the game, but we made a couple of mistakes and let Chattanooga get back in it. I just wanted to see how we responded and I feel like we played pretty well in the second half. Chattanooga was in the position to make a game of it, but we took care of business in the second half,” he added.
Saturday’s game didn’t start off so great for the Mocs as the Dukes marched downfield to score touchdowns on their first two possessions.
It was 14-0 with 5:33 left in the opening stanza following Jawon Hamilton’s 13-yard run and it looked like a blowout might be in the making.
The Mocs turned things around with a pair of touchdowns in the final minute of the quarter to be tied at 14-14, but they couldn’t hang on as James Madison finished the game with 23 unanswered points.
Chattanooga coach Rusty Wright certainly doesn’t believe in moral victories, but he’s hopeful that his young Mocs are getting better, despite three straight lopsided defeats.
“That’s a good football team,” Wright said to begin his post-game radio comments with Jim Reynolds and Todd Agne.
“Everything is magnified when you play a ranked team like James Madison, but there was no mystery about it and no smoke and mirrors. That’s just how they play the game.
“I feel like we grew up some today, but we just couldn’t seem to get anything going in the second half. We can’t afford to make the little mistakes we had and expect to do well, but my guys are starting to buy into what we’re trying to teach and I’m confident we’ll win some football games before the season ends.
“Today’s game didn’t start off like we had wanted, but we still did some good things. It’s hard to say if these early games against better teams helped us, but I guess we’ll find out Saturday,” he said in reference to UTC’s first conference game, a 4 p.m. Homecoming clash with Western Carolina.
James Madison finished the non-conference game with 532 total yards, including 268 on the ground and another 264 through the air.
Percy Agyei-Obese led the Duke running backs with 114 yards on 19 carries, including TDs of 9 and 1 yard. Quarterback Ben DiNucci added 49 yards on five trips while Hamilton had 48 yards on 11 attempts.
Brandon Polk was the leading receiver with 84 yards on four grabs, including a 48-yard TD strike late in the third quarter that put his team up 30-14 and really took the wind out of Chattanooga’s sails. Riley Stapleton had 73 yards on five grabs.
The Mocs weren’t nearly that efficient as they finished with 245 total yards, 161 through the air and another 84 on the ground.
Bryce Nunnelly had five catches for 47 yards while Reginald Henderson had 31 yards on his only catch.
Ailym Ford and Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks both finished with 27 yards rushing. Nick Tiano had 25 yards on the ground, including a keeper from the 2 that tied the game with 37 seconds left in the second quarter.
After both teams scored two touchdowns in the first 15 minutes, it looked like it might be a game for James Madison kicker Ethan Ratke, who booted field goals of 44 and 42 yards in the second quarter before adding a 29-yarder in the third.
While the Mocs will be at home again next Saturday to face Western Carolina for Homecoming, James Madison will be on the road again to face Elon.
JAMES MADISON 14 6 10 7 -- 37
CHATTANOOGA 14 0 0 0 -- 14
JM – Percy Agyei-Obese 9 run (Ethan Ratke kick), 8:56 left in first;
JM – Jawon Hamilton 13 run (Ratke kick), 5:33 left in first;
UTC – Chris James 19 pass from Nick Tiano (Victor Ulmo kick), 0:59 left in first;
UTC – Tiano 2 run (Ulmo kick), 0:37 left in first;
JM – Ratke 44 field goal, 11:26 left in second;
JM – Ratke 42 field goal, 0:26 left in second;
JM – Ratke 29 field goal, 10:01 left in third;
JM – Brandon Polk 48 pass from Ben DiNucci (Ratke kick), 3:38 left in third;
JM – Agyei-Obese 1 run (Ratke kick), 13:18 left in fourth.
STATS JAMES MADISON CHATTANOOGA
First downs 30 13
Rushes-Yards 49-268 29-84
Passing Yards 264 161
Total Yards 532 245
Passes (Comp-Att-Int) 19-25-0 12-26-1
Penalties-Yards 6-55 3-20
Punts-Avg. 2-40.5 7-43.9
Time of Possession 34:16 25:44
JAMES MADISON RUSHING: Percy Agyei-Obese 19 for 114; Ben DiNucci 5 for 49; Jawon Hamilton 11 for 48; Solomon Vanhorse 10 for 35.
JAMES MADISON RECEIVING: Brandon Polk 4 for 84; Riley Stapleton 5 for 73; Dylan Stapleton 3 for 36; Kyndel Dean 2 for 24.
JAMES MADISON PASSING: Ben DiNucci 19 of 25 for 264 yards and one touchdown.
CHATTANOOGA RUSHING: Ailym Ford 10 for 27; Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks 9 for 27; Nick Tiano 7 for 25; Jeffrey Wood 2 for 4.
CHATTANOOGA RECEIVING: Bryce Nunnelly 5 for 47; Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks 2 for 25; Reginald Henderson 1 for 31; Lameric Tucker 1 for 21.
CHATTANOOGA PASSING: Nick Tiano 12 for 26 with one interception for 161 yards.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)