Last-second field goal into wind beats EKU

RICHMOND — Cameron Starke's 35-yard field goal as time expired lifted James Madison to a 20-17 victory Saturday over Eastern Kentucky in the first round of the FCS playoffs.

Just like that, EKU's season was gone into the wind.

Starke's kick went into an 11 mph wind that had gusts as high as 27 mph.

The 17th-ranked Dukes (8-4) will move on to the second round, on the road against No. 2 seed North Dakota State.

"We told (Starke) that the scoreboard was blocking some of the wind if he could get it there," James Madison Coach Mickey Matthews said.

EKU (7-5), which won six of its last seven games to gain an at-large bid, hasn't won a playoff game since 1994.

"I don't think they can play any better," Coach Dean Hood said of his Colonels.

He likened Saturday's outcome to the season opener, a 10-7 loss at Kansas State.

"We could be happier," Hood said, "but couldn't be any prouder."

James Madison rallied from a 17-7 second-half deficit, aided by EKU.

Facing fourth-and-two on the EKU 43, the Dukes were set to punt. However, EKU had only 10 players on the field and, so, took a timeout with 1:34 left.

Given time to reconsider, the Dukes scrapped the punt.

"I knew the offensive coaches wanted to go for it," Matthews said. "And the defensive guys were saying 'go for it; we can hold them.' So I got outvoted."

Quarterback Justin Thorpe pitched the ball to Dae'Quan Scott, who skirted to his right for a 4-yard pickup.

Four more plays advanced the ball 20 yards, and James Madison called a timeout with one second left.

"The only thing I do when the wind is in my face is I really make sure I don't get as much height on the ball," Starke said. "Especially in a wind like that, I just make sure ... I get a really solid hit."

The Colonels led 10-7 at halftime, getting a 1-yard touchdown by H.B. Banjoman and, as time ran out, a 48-yard field goal by Luke Pray.

The Dukes' score came on Jordan Anderson's 1-yard run.

Third quarter, Starke had a 36-yard field-goal try with the wind barely wide right.

EKU capitalized when Banjoman ran off right tackle for his second 1-yard TD — one play after Matt Denham ran off right tackle for a career-high 66 yards.

"We actually had a stunt called on him," said middle linebacker Stephon Robertson, who led Dukes tacklers with 10, four of them solo. "The flow of everybody was to the opposite side and they ran 'power' so they just walled us down."

EKU picked up two first downs — the only ones it would get in the second half — on the five-play drive.

James Madison countered with a 21-yard field goal by Starke with 27 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Colonels would get the ball three more times, going three-and-out each chance.

After the first of those failures, James Madison drove 76 yards in eight plays to tie the game with 10:01 left. Anderson again ran in, this time from 24 yards out.

"This was as big a comeback as we've ever had, to be down two scores, going into the breeze — that hurricane — in the fourth quarter," Matthews said. "I thought our kids showed a lot of class given that Eastern's playing very hard."

Hard enough to stay in a game in which James Madison ran nearly twice as many plays (84-43), held the ball more than twice as long as EKU (40:30 to 19:30) and outgained the Colonels 393-213. The Dukes went 7-for-18 on third-down conversions and held EKU to 1-for-8.

For the first time all year, EKU did not force a turnover.

James Madison came up with one, though.

EKU's Justin Bell returned a first-quarter punt 75 yards to the Dukes' 9-yard line. Only a desperate, diving shoelace tackle by Jakarie Jackson kept Bell out of the end zone.

Bell glanced at the video board and saw Jackson closing, but couldn't avoid getting clipped. He tried to keep his feet but felt like "I had a governor on my legs, and I wasn't going anywhere after that."

Two plays later, Levander Jones made an end-zone interception of T.J. Pryor's pass to Matt Lengel.

Denham carried 17 times for 125 yards, his eighth consecutive 100-yard game. But James Madison had three runners over 70 yards in Thorpe (93), Scott (75) and Anderson (71).

Thorpe also went 9-for-16 passing, good for 149 yards. EKU's Pryor finished 10-for-15, for 94 yards.

Strong safety Patcik McClellan was in on 16 tackles for EKU, eight solos.