The Score – No. 2 seed James Madison (14-1) beat No. 3 seed Weber State (11-4) 30-14 in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs.
Story Line – The Dukes scored on their first three possessions and didn’t look back in advancing to the national championship game for the third time in four years.
Game Ball – Ben DiNucci’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Riley Stapleton on the final play of the first half highlighted another clutch performance in which the senior quarterback accounted for 317 yards of total offense and three touchdowns. The CAA offensive player of the year was equally smooth throwing from the pocket and stepping up on scrambles. Stapleton had a dominating line as well: nine receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
Key Stats – The game was basically over early because Weber State was going to have a hard time surpassing 17 points. Through three possessions each, James Madison had a 17-0 lead and the following advantages: offensive yards, 199-11; first downs, 14-0; and time of possession, 14:35-3:06.
The Takeaway – One of the more smothering defenses in the FCS may be peaking because the Dukes have allowed only 14 points in their last 10 quarters, although leader tackler Dmitri Holloway exited in the second quarter with a lower-leg injury. The defense is staying rested because the Dukes are controlling game clock (they held the ball for 38:56, which, incredibly, was their low in three playoff games). With three field goals, JMU’s Ethan Ratke took over the national lead with 25 (in 31 attempts) this season.
Up Next – James Madison will play No. 1 seed North Dakota State (15-0) in the FCS championship game Jan. 11 in Frisco, Texas. The Dukes trail 2-1 in three all-time playoff meetings since 2011, but they dealt the Bison their only postseason loss since 2011 with a 27-17 semifinal-round win in their 2016 national championship season. This season, coach Curt Cignetti’s Dukes are 14-0 against FCS opponents.