HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) — James Madison knew when he made the jump to the bowl subdivision this season that conference championships wouldn’t be available immediately due to NCAA transition rules.
So the Dukes turned their last game of the year into a bowl game and came out of no doubt who is the Sun Belt Conference East Division champion and led No. 23 Coastal Carolina 47-7 on Saturday.
“You know, we are champions. Everyone knows that we are champions of the east. I mean come on Across the country. You know, that was an important statement across the country,” said JMU coach Curt Gignetti, “that was an exclamation point. … Going to a bowl game would have been nice, but that was our bowl game.”
Todd Centeio threw for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth, and James Madison (8-3, 6-2) dominated at every stage, beating the Chanticleers by 502 yards for 183 yards.
When the game was over, Queen’s “We are the Champions” blared through the stadium.
“Everyone now knows who JMU is,” said wide receiver Kris Thornton, who became the first in school history to cover 1,000 yards twice. “We won the East.”
The Chanticleers (9-2, 6-2) were the first visitors in the AP Top 25 to ever play at Bridgeforth Stadium, but they did so without quarterback Grayson McCall. Their only score came on their second drive on Jarrett Guest’s 34-yard pass to Tyson Mobley.
“We lost hard mentally because we allowed the game to get bigger than it should have been,” said nose tackle Jerrod Clark.
James Madison was 7-6 down before Centeio hit a wide-open Reggie Brown for a 34-yard TD on his second drive of the second quarter to put the Dukes ahead. Then he hit Devin Ravenel on the next drive from 26 yards back in the end zone. In the game, Ravenel made a blinding catch over the top of the defender in very tight cover.
A 17-yard smash against Drew Painter just over two minutes into the third quarter and Latrele Palmer’s 13-yard run put it 33-7 midway through the quarter, and an 8-yard pass to Ravenel by 16 seconds Late in the quarter, Centeio gave up his fourth game with at least four touchdown passes this season. He added an 11-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
THE TAKE AWAY
Coastal Carolina: The Chants were the only team in the Group of Five with McCall with a loss, but they’re a different team without him and his 21 TDs against just one interception. They gained 75 yards on their scoring drive and only 109 for the rest of the game.
“We can’t let this game spill over into the championship game,” Clark said.
James Madison: Cignetti said the recruitment period doesn’t start until December 5, but “this should be a catalyst to help us recruit and generate awareness nationwide.” …You can now talk to Grad Transfers and you can now talk to Transfers. And we did that, but we really focused on our season.”
JMU won national Football Championship Series titles in 2004 and 2016 and competed in two other title games.
Coastal’s stint in the AP Top 25, like James Madison before him, will only last one game. The Chants were classified last week when their game against Virginia was called off.
The Chanticleers face either Troy or South Alabama for the Sun Belt championship next Saturday.
The Dukes’ season is over due to their FBS transition. They will qualify for a conference title and bowl bid in 2024.
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