There was some fortitude in those 124 rushing yards.
James Madison junior running back Percy Agyei-Obese didn’t have a carry go for more than 15 yards, but he managed to steadily stabilize the Dukes’ attack against the bruising defense of Northern Iowa in JMU’s 17-0 shutout of the Panthers on Friday in the FCS quarterfinals.
“I thought Percy really ran well with 33 carries,” Dukes coach Curt Cignetti said afterward with Agyei-Obese seated to his right during the post-game press conference. “It’s really amazing he’s up here right now.”
Cignetti said his running back had to overcome pain throughout the game’s final 30 minutes to keep the offense on the field.
Agyei-Obese’s 124 rushing yards marked his fifth 100-yard performance of the campaign and pushed him over 1,000 rushing yards for the season. His fourth-quarter rushing touchdown extended the Dukes’ advantage to the score they would win by, and put him the end zone for the seventh straight game and the 19th time this year.
“He was cramping the whole second half – his hand, his calf,” Cignetti said. “And they wanted to IV him, but it takes 10 minutes to get him hydrated again and we thought, ‘Well, let’s see if he can make it through.’”
Agyei-Obese said: “I knew we had to finish the game. I knew we were going to run the ball a lot, and I knew getting an IV would take too long and we just had to finish the game off as a running back group. [Running backs coach Matt] Merritt talked to us and said, ‘The ball is in our hands right now and we just have to finish off the game.’”
Northern Iowa had only allowed one individual rusher to go over 100 yards in a game (North Dakota State running back Adam Cofield) previously this season until Agyei-Obese did it on Friday.
The Panthers entered the quarterfinals with the nation’s ninth best rushing defense yielding only 104.7 yards per game.
“They were a stout defense, and hard hitting,” Agyei-Obese said. “But as the game progressed they started to wear down and our offensive line was pushing them down the field, which helped a lot.”
- By reaching 1,000 rushing yards, Agyei-Obese and senior wide receiver Brandon Polk, who already had reached 1,000 receiving yards, became the first pair of teammates in JMU history to have 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards, respectively, in the same season.
- Polk scored the game’s first touchdown on a screen pass from quarterback Ben DiNucci in the opening quarter. DiNucci said: “It was supposed to be a quarterback draw, but if they blitzed the guy from the left then my job is to just kick the bubble out to [Polk]. They blitzed a guy from the left and there we go.”
- DiNucci said he took a hard hit to the head in the first half, which rattled him. “But I’ll be alright,” the quarterback said. “I’ll take two days to rest and get back to it on Monday.” He said he doesn’t need to go into concussion protocol.
- Northern Iowa suffered its fifth loss on Friday, and all of its losses – at FBS Iowa State, at Weber State, at North Dakota State, at Illinois State, at South Dakota State and at JMU – came against ranked FCS opponents or its lone FBS foe. Afterward, UNI coach Mark Farley said: “[JMU] is a top 10 team with all these other guys. We played Weber State. We played North Dakota State. We played Illinois State. We’ve this whole pool of teams and they stack up well. Their defense really good.”
- JMU defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman said JMU mixed up its pressures against Northern Iowa on Friday. “I thought all 11 did great,” he said. “The defensive line stepped up and the biggest thing was we wanted to make them one-dimensional and those guys knocked it back.”
- Northern Iowa was 2-of-12 on third down. “I just think that there was a lot of pressure to the quarterback where he was leaving the pocket,” Panthers wide receiver Aaron Graham said. “And they played good on press coverage.”
- JMU senior defensive end John Daka had two sacks for a second straight game. Daka has 7.5 sacks in his last four postseason games. He also has 16.5 for this season.
- Dukes punter Harry O’Kelly didn’t punt at all in JMU’s second-round win over Monmouth last week because the offense never need him to, but when he was needed Friday against Northern Iowa, he was good. O’Kelly punted five times and landed four punts inside the opposing 20 to help win the field-position battle. Northern Iowa’s average-starting spot was its own 18 whereas the Dukes’ average-starting spot was its own 44. “Lot of confidence in him,” Cignetti said of O’Kelly.