HARRISONBURG -- Towson coach Rob Ambrose described Justin Thorpe as a "nightmare," and for 1 minute and 57 seconds Saturday, the James Madison quarterback was that and more to Ambrose and his football team.
Thorpe scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 9-yard run with 1:24 to play, and Dean Marlowe intercepted his second pass of the game with 44 seconds left to seal the No. 5 Dukes' 13-10 win over No. 12 Towson at Bridgeforth Stadium in a nationally televised matchup between two of the Colonial Athletic Association's top teams.
"That's the nightmare I had worried about from the beginning of last week," Ambrose said of Thorpe. "We did a tremendous job of containing him for three quarters. … If you miss, he'll make you pay. That's why he is who he is."
Thorpe got his chance after Towson (2-3 overall, 1-1 in the CAA) - the defending CAA champion - took a 10-6 lead with 3:21 play on a 7-yard run by quarterback Grant Enders to cap a fourth quarter-eating 14-play, 92-yard, 7-minute, 24-second drive.
Thorpe - who, last week, was awarded a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA - led the Dukes (4-1, 2-0) on an eight-play, 79-yard drive in which the fifth-year junior quarterback completed six of six passes for 60 yards in a masterful orchestration of the 2-minute offense to set up his own game-winning touchdown run.
Thorpe dropped back to throw, dodged a blitz and took off, darting 9 yards and into the end zone with a dive to put JMU up 13-10 with 1:24 left in the game, which, until that point, had been all about defense.
"We practice that every day. We do a 2-minute drill every day, and anybody who comes to our practices can see that," Thorpe said. "We were kind of like robot on that drive. It was just automatic."
As for being a nightmare?
"I don't know," he said with a laugh. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I'll take it as a compliment. They have a heck of a defense, that's all I can say. We just made a play at the end of the game."
Thorpe finished 11-of-19 for 116 with no touchdowns and no interceptions. The Richmond native rushed for 27 yards on nine carries, while tailback Dae'Quan Scott, who returned after missing two games, rushed for 85 yards on 22 carries.
Thorpe's most important carry, though, was the last one.
"That was a big-time drive," said JMU coach Mickey Matthews, who earned his 100th career win Saturday, for which he received a plaque from the players. The 14th-year coach is now 100-62. "That's what championships are made of when you do things like that."