It’s been an all-involved postseason run to this point.
James Madison recorded its first shutout in program playoff history with a 17-0 quarterfinal blanking of Northern Iowa this past Friday, and the week before the Dukes posted a school playoff record for points in their 66-21 second-round dismantling of Monmouth.
They enter Saturday’s semifinal against Weber State having already won with their offense and their defense.
“You’ve got to have a team plan to win the game,” first-year JMU coach Curt Cignetti said Monday during the Colonial Athletic Association coaches teleconference, “and every phase complements the other phase.”
His staff and players feel the same way, too.
Following the win over Northern Iowa, Dukes defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman pointed out how the offense had a hand in helping the defense, which racked up five sacks, nine tackles for loss and two forced fumbles to secure the shutout.
“Our offense was on the field and it kept our guys fresh,” Hetherman said, “and really kept our guys flying around all night long.”
In spite of scoring only 17 points, the offense controlled time of possession for more than 42 minutes while converting 13-of-24 third-down tries and successfully converting on its lone fourth-down attempt.
Dukes quarterback Ben DiNucci, who opened the game’s scoring against the Panthers with a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon Polk in the first quarter, said he trusted the defense to protect the early advantage.
“We kind of expected that,” DiNucci said. “They had been saying all week that Northern Iowa really didn’t have a high-powered offense and then they went out there and shut them down. And it’s unbelievable to know any lead we have is safe with them.”
Even after Monmouth took a 7-0 edge with a 93-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second-round game, DiNucci didn’t worry about the defense.
“After they scored [offensive tackle] Liam Fornadel and Ben came up to me,” defensive end Ron’Dell Carter said after the win over Monmouth. “And they we’re like ‘We got your back’ and we had theirs, so we got to take care of each other.”
Cignetti said Monday: “Offense, defense, special teams. We’ve tried to play that way all year long and so it’ll be critically important that we do so this week against Weber [State] because they play the same way.”
Cignetti said Weber State leans on its defense, but uses game-changing special teams and a reliable offense to win. The Wildcats knocked off Kennesaw State in the second round and Montana in the quarterfinals.
“I think that’s what you see from most teams at this stage of the playoffs,” Cignetti said. “It’s a total-team plan.”
- Cignetti said he wasn’t going to watch JMU’s 2017 quarterfinal win over Weber State for any preparation purposes. He said the game was too long ago. “We’ve got all their games from this season,” he said.
- Cignetti said players were off Saturday and Sunday following the win over Northern Iowa, but that the rest of this week ahead of Saturday’s game against Weber State will be the same.
- About his defensive line, Cignetti said, “I think our front with what they’ve done this year, especially from the fourth quarter of Villanova on, we’ve had some great production.”
- During the call, the CAA associate commissioner for communications, Rob Washburn, said JMU’s appearance in the national semifinals marks the seventh straight year that a CAA team has reached the national semifinals. The Dukes have done it three times in the last four years.