The record-breaking run wasn’t Jawon Hamilton’s objective when he took the first-quarter handoff.
“I’m just trying to get positive yards and get out of that territory,” Hamilton, the James Madison senior running back, explained.
With the Dukes backed up on their own 1-yard line during opening quarter of their first-round playoff game against VMI on Saturday, Hamilton set new marks for the longest run in JMU and FCS postseason history with his 99-yard sprint from one purple-shaded end zone into the other.
His rushing score stood as the game’s first points in third-seeded JMU’s 31-24 win over VMI.
It also shattered the previous program-long run of 95 yards set by Joe Sparksman during a 1990 game against William & Mary as well as the subdivision’s former postseason-long run of 93 yards set by ex-Monmouth running back Pete Guerriero against JMU in last season’s second round.
“I want to applaud the offensive line,” Hamilton said. “I was able to get the ball, press it in there and then I looked to the right and saw all this space to run and so I was like, ‘Oh man. Let’s go.’ So I hit it, kept running and I looked at the big screen, saw all the space and I saw Solomon [Vanhorse] running behind me. He made a key block and I knew I was good then.”
Hamilton and Dukes coach Curt Cignetti praised Vanhorse for his effort on the run. Vanhorse, featured in the two-back set used for the first time this spring, cutoff VMI defensive back Aljareek Malry from pursuing Hamilton from behind.
“That was a huge play,” Cignetti said. “I mean, I’ve only seen a 99-yard touchdown run one other time in my life and that was Tony Dorsett on Monday Night Football against the Vikings. And that was a long time ago.
“I mean, [Hamilton] sped out of there and I knew he had a chance. Then, here came Vanhorse and he made a key block. Vanhorse outran everybody, made a key block and there was never any doubt after that.”
Hamilton said VMI’s defense loaded the box to stop the run throughout the game, but wasn’t prepared to see the two-back set.
“I know for a fact you guys haven’t seen that at all this spring season,” Hamilton said. “So with me and Solomon in at the same time, I’m sure it’s very confusing because you don’t know who will get the ball. We put that in and it worked.”
Hamilton rushed for a game-high and career-best 171 yards. Him and Percy Agyei-Obese, who carried for 110 yards, became the first pair of JMU rushers to each eclipse 100 yards on the ground in the same game for the first time since Nov. 23, 2019 when they did it against Rhode Island.
- Saturday’s win for JMU over VMI was the Dukes’ 10th straight playoff victory at home. That streak dates back to the 2016 season.
- JMU freshman wide receiver Antwane Wells Jr. made four catches for 132 yards and a touchdown in the victory. Wells Jr.’s 132 yards were the fourth most in a playoff game by a JMU pass catcher.
Former Dukes receivers Riley Stapleton (189 vs. Weber State in 2017 and 162 vs. Weber State in 2019) and Brandon Ravenel (155 vs. New Hampshire in 2016) only had more.
“He thrives on competition,” Cignetti said of Wells Jr. “Plus, he’s got good size, speed, twitch, explosiveness and good hands. He’s got a lot of player in him. He’s tough.”
- The Dukes took a number of deep shots including one from quarterback Cole Johnson to Wells Jr. for a 62-yard touchdown pass.
Cignetti said they wanted to attack VMI deep.
“They were going to press your outside receivers,” Cignetti said. “And the safeties are going to be down in the run game … and that’s what they do. We wanted to find out early how we matched up from a speed standpoint. Took some shots. Made some, left a few out there.”
Johnson finished 11-of-22 for 204 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
- VMI quarterback Seth Morgan, who threw three interceptions on Saturday, said JMU’s defense deserves all the respect it gets.
“They’re talented all around,” Morgan said. “There are teams you play and they might be weak at defensive back or maybe their D-Line isn’t all that, but that’s not the case with JMU. They’ve got athletic linebackers, an athletic D-Line and a talented defensive back core. That’s what stood out to me.”