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No. 2 overall seed James Madison kicked off its 2019 FCS Playoffs in a fashion indicative of how the Dukes have played all season.
The defense overwhelmed the opposing offense, the run game featured a variety of productive ball-carriers dashing through holes opened by a savvy offensive line, Ben DiNucci was remarkably efficient in the passing game, and James Madison was somehow statistically better than in the regular season.
“It’s hard to make an argument against our production on Saturday,” Dukes coach Curt Cignetti said.
Amen. James Madison set records with its offensive production, but clicked in all phases of the 66-21 rout.
66 Is Greather Than 65
On it ways to the 2016 national championship, James Madison set a program record with 65 points in a drubbing of Sam Houston State. When Charles Tutt returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and Ethan Ratke booted through his 12th point of the day to set the new mark.
In addition to a new record for points scored, the Dukes’ staggering 623 yards of offense marked an all-time JMU best.
Big Game Ben
Ben DiNucci may not have placed in the Walter Payton Award balloting, but it’s awfully difficult to argue the James Madison quarterback isn’t one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Take into consideration his performance against Monmouth: He completed 21-of-25, producing a completion percentage that set the program’s playoff-game record.
He passed for two touchdowns and rushed for two more, pushing his season totals to 24 and six. But to say DiNucci’s been at his best in high-profile games, like Saturday’s in the Playoffs, too severely downplays just how consistent he’s been throughout 2019.
“I didn’t think he got a monkey off his back or anything,” Cignetti said in reference to DiNucci rebounding from a rough showing in the 2018 Playoffs. “He’s a confident guy, and we surrounded him with good players.”
A Day Off For Harry O'Kelly
Punter Harry O’Kelly’s workload is typically light – he booted away just 37 times in the regular season – but he made zero appearances on Saturday. James Madison scored touchdowns on nine drives, a field goal on a 10th, and ran out the clock to close the first half and regulation.
O’Kelly was called on just once each in late regular-season routs of New Hampshire and Rhode Island, but the 2nd Round Playoffs romp was the first game all year in which he wasn’t needed at all.
Third & Fourth Down Dominance
To go a game without punting is pretty remarkable, and inherently means an offense is winning third-and-fourth downs. But of James Madison’s 9-of-13 on third-down conversion attempts – an astounding number without additional context – one of those “failed” attempts came when Eric Kirlew was running out at the clock at the game’s end.
On the flip-side, the Dukes defense held Monmouth to 3-of-11 combined conversions on third-and-fourth down.
A Goose Egg On The Ground
Monmouth Walter Payton Award finalist and running back Pete Guerriero took the game’s opening handoff and dashed 93 yards for a touchdown.
The Hawks finished with 93 yards rushing.
“We whipped ‘em up front,” Cignetti said. “Our front four really took it to their offensive line, so there weren’t many creases in the run game…It was just our physicality. They played, I think, 10 straight games and they got a little bit worn down.”
Not only was that one run the only thing giving Monmouth any positive rushing yards on the day, it tied the second-most yards rushing James Madison allowed to any one opponent all season.
Garrett Groulx joined D’Angelo Amos with multiple blocks this season, denying Monmouth a field goal just before halftime. John Daka, meanwhile, made the most of a rare appearance on special teams with his first blocked punt. That led directly to a Dukes scoring drive that gave them their first lead of the afternoon.
With Daka getting into the mix, James Madison now has five different players with either a blocked punt or placekick attempt this season.