The avalanche cascading toward Towson’s destruction hit the Tigers just as quickly as James Madison receiver Brandon Polk sprinted 60 yards for six.
“It’s big. It’s a momentum changer,” Towson coach Rob Ambrose said.
Polk had a career-best eight receptions including the screen pass he turned into something more reminiscent of a runaway win in a race for a track star as part of the No. 2 Dukes’ 27-10 victory over No. 16 Towson on Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium.
The second-quarter touchdown for Polk gave JMU a two-score edge that would only grow larger as part of the Dukes’ run of 17 straight points to close the half and 20 straight to finish the game.
“Our guys made the plays,” JMU coach Curt Cignetti said. “We’ve been pretty good in the second quarter, so it’s just a credit to our guys and the way they competed, the way they overcome and the way they don’t lose their poise.”
The win for the Dukes (8-1, 5-0 CAA) was their eighth straight while the loss for Towson sends the Tigers (4-4, 1-3 CAA) into a win-or-miss-the-playoffs scenario for the rest of the season.
JMU took the lead to begin the stifling stretch when quarterback Ben DiNucci connected with wide receiver Riley Stapleton for a 9-yard score with less than five minutes to play in the second quarter. DiNucci threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns in the contest while Stapleton made four grabs for 62 yards to compliment Polk, who had a career-best and game-high 121 receiving yards.
Before Polk could accelerate away from any would-be tacklers, he had to shove Towson safety S.J. Brown to the turf with a powerful stiff arm.
“Great ball by Ben and great blocking by Riley,” Polk said, “and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. But the stiff-arm kind of brought me back to [JMU’s season] opener at West Virginia.”
Polk had a chance to score against the Mountaineers, but was tracked down by a defender 10 yards shy of the goal line.
“I was too worried about him [against West Virginia],” Polk said, “and I didn’t stiff-arm him and once I got in that position [against Towson], I remembered that play and was like, ‘If I do stiff-arm him, I can potentially score.’ So that’s just what I did.”
On the next Towson possession, the Dukes didn’t let up.
JMU safety Que Reid hit Tigers quarterback Tom Flacco hard to force a fumble and defensive end John Daka recovered it. By the end half, the Dukes got a 19-yard field goal from Ethan Ratke after a 29-yard run from running back Jawon Hamilton flipped the field to turn what was 10-7 deficit with nine minutes to play in the second quarter into a 24-10 advantage heading into the locker room.
“It’s a point-changer,” Ambrose said. “The goal was to try to get [JMU] to the fourth quarter without making mistakes and to make ‘em play a whole 60-minute game, and they haven’t had to do that too often. And we could not turn the ball over and we could not give up big plays — those were like the two mantras we had all game — and when we didn’t do that it was a back-and-forth boxing match.
“But when we did do that, it didn’t look pretty on our end.”
Accompanying standout performances from Polk and Stapleton, was a consistent effort to disrupt Flacco from the Dukes defense.
JMU sacked Flacco six times, including the 2.5 Daka had. Flacco finished with 210 yards and a touchdown, but also was intercepted by Dukes safety Adam Smith.
“It’s like chasing a little cat or a little squirrel or something,” Daka said of trying to sack Flacco. “But it was rewarding.”
Running back Percy Agyei-Obese closed the game in the fourth quarter as JMU melted the clock. Agyei-Obese opened the scoring with an eight-yard touchdown run and had 111 yards and the touchdown for the game.