On a beautiful sunny day in Morgantown, Neal Brown made his coaching debut at West Virginia. The James Madison Dukes came into town ranked second in the country in the Football Championship Division. Despite wearing purple and gold, the Dukes were led by a familiar face. Curt Cignetti, JMU’s head coach, is a former WVU quarterback. Additionally, he happens to be the son of former West Virginia head coach, Fred Cignetti. The beginning of a new coaching era, combined with a talented opponent, set the stage for an intriguing Labor Day weekend opener.
Despite two early turnovers, JMU took a touchdown lead into the second quarter after a nine yard scamper by Soloman Vanhorse. A 38 yard field goal by WVU’s Evan Staley, narrowed the margin to 7-3.
The first half was filled by miscues on the offense for West Virginia. Missed blocking assignments, dropped balls and off target throws appeared to be the norm. West Virginia would enter the locker room with an appalling 18 yards of rushing. The Dukes, despite two turnovers, mustered 206 yards of offense compared to WVU’s 107.
The Blue and Gold would finally hit pay dirt on their first possession of the half. Tevin Bush made a sideline scamper to set up a 28 yard touchdown by Florida State transfer, George Campbell. This gave WVU the lead for the first time. A back and forth struggle would continue through the second half. With eight minutes left in the fourth, Tevin Bush opened up a ten point lead for the Mountaineers on a 22 yard touchdown pass. The Dukes would prove pesky though, refusing to wither away as they narrowed the margin with a late field goal, making it 20-13 with four minutes remaining. Late heroics by the defense, led by Darius Stills, allowed West Virginia to avoid the upset.
Austin Kendell and the offense found a way to win but West Virginia never established a running game, finishing the day with a meager 34 yards on the ground. The passing game, while statistically better, was riddled with dropped passes and poor throws. The offensive line struggled with pass protection and was not able to establish the line of scrimmage needed for a successful running attack. Coach Brown said clearly in his press conference, that the offensive line had to block better for the team to take advantage of it’s talented running back stable.
Austin Kendall in his debut for the Mountaineers, went 22 of 47 for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Tevin Bush was a bright light for the offense. He led the receivers with 74 yards on four catches, while also reeling in a touchdown.
Defensively, Josh Chandler led the Mountaineers with 14 tackles. The defensive line started to come through in the second half, putting pressure on the Dukes’ quarterback, Ben DeNucci, forcing an all important interception. The star of the defense and the game for West Virginia, was Darius Stills. He dominated from his nose tackle position. His six tackles, sack and a tackle for loss can’t be overstated. Younger brother, Dante Stills, also stood out with three tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss.
JMU’s signal caller, Ben DeNucci, went 13 for 20 for 156 yards and an interception. He also added 36 yards on the ground as he made timely scrambles throughout the game. Leading the Dukes in rushing was Soloman Vanhorse, he gained 55 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Polk led the receiving core for the Dukes, hauling in 4 catches for 66 yards.
Coach Brown began his tenure in Morgantown with a win over a very talented FCS program. The Dukes led for more than half of the game and WVU narrowly stalled a late game drive to tie. The Mountaineers will face a completely different challenge next week as they travel to Missouri. The Tigers have NFL talent at several positions, forcing West Virginia and Coach Brown to make massive strides between week one and two if they want to improve to 2-0.