Ben DiNucci certainly earned a shot at playing for a national title — and putting to rest a poor playoff performance last season.
The senior quarterback’s 317 yards of total offense, two touchdowns through the air and another on the ground helped the Dukes secure a 30-14 FCS playoff semifinal win over Weber State on Saturday to advance to the national championship game on Jan. 11 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas against North Dakota State.
“It kind of brings this thing full circle for us,” DiNucci, a Pittsburgh transfer, said. “I know for me in particular, one of the main reasons why I decided to come here two years ago was for that opportunity. The tradition that’s been here and is still here is unbelievable. Just being able to be part of this whole thing is awesome.”
And the way DiNucci played in the semifinal is no different than how he has played throughout the season – efficient with his throws, lethal with legs and not willing to put any possession in jeopardy.
The win over Weber State marked the 10th game this year that DiNucci, the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year and American Football Coaches Association All-American first-team quarterback, didn’t throw an interception. He’s up to 34 total touchdowns to only five interceptions for the season.
“I feel good for him,” first-year JMU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shane Montgomery said, “because I know he blamed himself for the way that last year ended and he’s really come hard to work.
“It’s really good to see a guy like that in his fifth year, that’s been around as much as he has and who has had a lot of ups and downs, to be able to go to Frisco and close his career like this.”
Earlier this month following the Dukes’ win over Monmouth in the second round, DiNucci said his performance that day – an 84 percent completion rate, two passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and no interceptions – would “hopefully” put to rest the notion that he is the same player who threw five interceptions against Colgate in last year’s second-round loss that derailed the 2018 campaign.
If that showing against Monmouth wasn’t conclusive, the one against the Wildcats on Saturday certainly was.
His Hail Mary throw for a touchdown to Riley Stapleton closed the first half and gave the Dukes a 17-point edge they didn’t have to worry about losing.
“After last year ended, I think our entire locker room probably could tell that we weren’t happy with how that thing ended,” DiNucci said Saturday. “And the beginning of this year we kind of made it a point to beat everyone we play this year. Aside from that first game (at FBS West Virginia), we’ve done a good job and it’s awesome.
“It’s a surreal feeling being able to play for a national championship, but the reality is we have to win it. So we’re not going to be happy until we get the job done down there.”