Bryan Schor passed for five touchdowns and James Madison, the top-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision, scored the first 28 points while cruising past ETSU, 52-10, at Bridgeforth Stadium.
The Bucs (1-1) came into the game hoping to find out how they stacked up against a powerhouse, and the answer wasn’t very flattering. James Madison out-gained the Bucs 426-175 in total offensive yards and scored in every quarter.
“We’ve still got some growing to do and we’ve got to get better,” ETSU coach Carl Torbush said. “We’re not there yet. I was proud of the effort. I was proud of the fight. But we’ve still got some growing to do.
“We’ve played several really, really good football teams over the last three years, but without a doubt, this was the best one.”
Schor, who moved into a tie for third place on James Madison’s career touchdown pass list with 42, connected with Riley Stapleton and Ishmael Hyman for two scores apiece. Stapleton, a sophomore who hadn’t caught a pass in his career, finished with eight receptions for 64 yards.
David Eldridge, a transfer from Virginia, caught Schor’s fifth touchdown pass, a 10-yard play with 6:05 left.
Schor, a senior who led the Dukes to the FCS national championship last year, completed 25 of 33 passes for 304 yards. His five TD passes tied his own single-game school record.
The Bucs’ scored on a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown by Domenique Williams and a 23-yard field goal from JJ Jerman.
The Dukes improved to 2-0 in front of a crowd of 24,722. They’re 16-1 under second-year coach Mike Houston.
“We didn’t make it a close game,” said ETSU quarterback Austin Herink, who completed 12 of 27 passes for 118 yards and one interception on a tipped pass. “They were never nervous, but I think there are a lot of positives to take from it. Take it into conference play and get better and get ready for the rest of our season.”
Ground to a halt
While Schor was torching ETSU through the air, the Bucs’ run defense held up its end of the bargain. James Madison, which rushed for 422 yards last week in a win over East Carolina, gained 122 yards on the ground, but it took 39 carries. That’s an average of slightly more than three yards an attempt.
“I think we’ve defended the run pretty well week in, week out since we’ve been here,” Torbush said. “Obviously we stopped the running game, but we didn’t stop what we needed to and that was the passing game. Any time they convert 10 out of 15 on third downs, you’ve got a problem.”
James Madison running back Cardon Johnson, who gashed East Carolina for 265 yards, was held to 25 on 10 carries.
“We take that as a positive just because of how well they did last week in the rushing game,” said ETSU linebacker River Boruff, who led the team with 11 tackles. “We know we held them to a small amount of yards in the first half. They got a little bit more in the second half, but we take that as a positive.”
Quick starting Dukes
The Bucs were down 7-0 before they ever got the ball, and when they did have it, they couldn’t do much. James Madison’s defense held ETSU to 33 total yards in the first half while jumping out to a 28-7 halftime lead.
James Madison scored three times in the first quarter — on passes of 27 and 6 yards from Schor to Hyman and a 5-yard run from Johnson. Those three scores came quickly as only one drive took more than two minutes.
The Dukes then used a lengthy drive to go up 28-0. They drove 93 yards in 16 plays and took 5:33 off the clock before Stapleton caught Schor’s third touchdown pass of the first half, a 3-yarder.
Williams, who has been touted as a shifty kick returner by the ETSU coaching staff for two years, finally got to show what he could do in the open field. He stepped in front of a Schor pass late in the second quarter and returned it 33 yards for the Bucs’ only touchdown.
“Austin (Gatewood) got a good jam on the inside receiver so I just made a play on the ball and thankfully I had my blockers with me and we got a touchdown,” Williams said. “I just wanted to score. That was my goal. I just wanted to get into the end zone.”
Williams’ big play cut James Madison’s lead to 28-7 and gave ETSU at least a little momentum heading to the locker room at halftime.
It was ETSU’s first interception return for a touchdown since Nov. 15, 2003 when Allen Davis took one 90 yards against Chattanooga.
The Bucs’ offense remained stagnant most of the night, but it caught a burst of energy late in the third quarter.
They went 63 yards on three plays — a 10-yard pass from Herink to Vincent Lowe, a 38-yard diving catch from Hunter Wike and a pass interference call on a pass to Quan Harrison. They stalled in the red zone and settled for Jerman’s field goal.
That left James Madison up 42-10.
The Bucs knew nothing was going to be easy so they couldn’t afford to hurt themselves.
They did just that in the early going. After James Madison’s first two touchdowns, ETSU was called for illegal block penalties on the ensuing kickoffs. That forced the Bucs to start deep in their own territory both times.
They did it again to start the second half and had to begin on their own 7-yard line.
It cost them dearly when they couldn’t get out of the hole and had to punt. John Miller returned the kick 41 yards for a touchdown and a 35-7 lead.
Miller’s touchdown wasn’t even his longest punt return of the night. He later fielded a bouncing kick and took it 43 yards before being tackled at the ETSU 20. He now has two punt returns for touchdowns in his career.
Houston, who took over the James Madison program last year, spoke highly of the Bucs after the game.
“East Tennessee was exactly what we thought they would be,” he said. “They’re an extremely disciplined, well coached, physical and hard nosed football team. As soon as they get a few more recruiting cycles in and a few more athletes in that locker room, they’re going to be a very, very solid program.”
ETSU returns home Saturday when The Citadel comes to William B. Greene Jr. Stadium for a Southern Conference game. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.