This is when Curt Cignetti could’ve strayed away from his always-looking-forward, but not-beyond-the-next-game approach.
It would’ve been acceptable – perhaps for a few moments – to let the guard down and forget about the relentless pursuit of combating the upcoming opponent.
James Madison had just clinched at least a share of the Colonial Athletic Association championship with its 54-16 drubbing of New Hampshire on Saturday.
“I think that everybody’s aspirations are a lot higher than that right now,” Cignetti, the first-year Dukes coach, said. “We want an outright conference championship and to get ready for the next one. Right now, it’s Richmond, so I think this team is on a mission and everybody has got the same vision.”
The share of the conference title for JMU marked the fourth time in the last five years that the Dukes won at least part of it. They didn’t get any of it last year, but in 2016 and 2017 the program had the trophy all to itself while finishing with unblemished 8-0 CAA records in each of those seasons.
At 9-1 overall and 6-0 in the league with two games left, the perfect conference record is in play and the Dukes can take the trophy selfishly this coming Saturday with a home win over Richmond.
They have this opportunity because, as Cignetti pointed out, him, his staff and the players are aligned. The team has followed and adapted the actions of their coach, who can’t help but to concentrate on only the immediate foe.
“One game a time,” running back Percy Agyei-Obese said a few days ahead of his 130-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance in the victory over New Hampshire. “That’s how we got to take it, because at the end of the day you can’t look ahead. Everyone knows what the goal is ahead, but to get there you’ve got to go through the process and build up to it.”
“Have to keep the blinders up,” cornerback Rashad Robinson said prior to beating UNH. “Because in this conference anything can happen … so you’ve got to keep the blinders up and take it one week a time.”
That idea served JMU well against the Wildcats, tallying 537 total yards of offense while the first-team Dukes unit was never forced to punt. Aside from a trick play that went for 49 yards for UNH, the JMU defense allowed very little – 243 total yards for the game while safety Adam Smith notched an interception for the fourth consecutive contest and defensive end John Daka upped his number of sacks for the season to 12, catapulting him to fourth nationally in the category.
Quarterback Ben DiNucci, who threw for 293 yards and two scores and rushed for another touchdown said the offense put together its most complete performance of the year.
“Sometimes you can kind of take this stuff for granted,” DiNucci said. “But winning by that much against the No. 10 team in the country (according to the FCS playoff committee), that was fun to be able to go out there and do that, and put on display some of the things we were working on.”
Cignetti said the 58-yard touchdown pass DiNucci threw to Brandon Polk, who tallied a career-high 136 receiving yards, was something the Dukes set up in their previous win on Oct. 26 against Towson.
“Last week we threw an RPO twice to Riley [Stapleton] out of that same formation,” Cignetti said, “against that same coverage and we knew they’d be practicing for that. But it was sort of the same look. It was a double-move off that with Brandon inside.”
UNH interim coach Ricky Santos said: “That’s a really, really, really good football team and as good as anybody in the country.”
Cignetti said it was a solid victory, but “there’s a lot of unfinished business there down the road” for his team.