James Madison pulls away as Mocs lose third straight [photos]

Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / James Madison University quarterback Ben DiNucci (6) is tripped up by UTC's Jerrell Lawson (27) during Saturday's game at Finley Stadium.

This time, a slow start didn't doom the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

It was the final 30 minutes that did the Mocs in.

UTC overcame a 14-point first-quarter deficit against Football Championship Subdivision power James Madison University on Saturday at Finley Stadium, but the Dukes scored the last 23 points to pull away for a 37-14 victory.

The Mocs (1-3) were outgained by nearly 300 yards and managed only 84 rushing yards against an aggressive defense. The Dukes, No. 2 in both FCS rankings listed by the NCAA, improved to 3-1, with their lone loss a seven-point defeat at Football Bowl Subdivision member West Virginia.

JMU 37, UTC 14

Staff writer Lindsey Young breaks down the game in bits and pieces.SATURDAY'S STARJMU quarterback Ben DiNucci used his arm and his legs to make enough big plays to keep the Mocs at bay. He finished with 264 yards and a touchdown on 16-of-25 passing, ran for 49 more yards and was the biggest reason the Dukes were 8-of-13 on third-down conversions.SATURDAY'S STAT84. That was the total rushing yards for UTC. The Mocs came in averaging 133 rushing yards per game and were hoping to lean on the ground attack to sustain long drives and shorten the game. The Dukes, however, never allowed it, shutting the Mocs down with a defense that often put seven or eight players within 3 yards of the line. JMU ends Ron'Dell Carter and John Daka and nose guard Adeeb Atariwa were dominant.TURNING POINTThe Mocs had withstood several moments during the game in which the Dukes nearly put them away. Midway through the third quarter, though, UTC put together a series while trailing by nine points that reached the 12 on Nick Tiano's 21-yard pass to Lameric Tucker on fourth-and-8. With a chance to make it a one-possession game, Tiano's third-down pass was intercepted by D'Angelo Amos.HIGHLIGHT PLAYThe pick by Amos was the biggest play, but the most impressive was the game-sealing 48-yard touchdown by Brandon Polk on a well-blocked screen pass that caught the Mocs in a blitz. Polk patiently waited on his blockers, made one cut inside and turned on the jets to extend the Dukes' lead to 16 just moments after UTC threatened inside the 20.WHAT IT MEANSThere were enough good moments to build some optimism for the Mocs before they open Southern Conference play against Western Carolina next weekend, but there were once again too many self-inflicted wounds to beat a good team, much less the No. 2-ranked Dukes.

"That's probably the best football team we are going to face this year, but, again, we didn't give ourselves enough of a chance to win," UTC coach Rusty Wright said. "We have to quit shooting ourselves in the foot early, and that's on me. When you play games against people like this, everything is magnified. You can't make mistakes or they will take advantage.

"That's what good teams do."

JMU quarterback Ben DiNucci had more than 300 yards of total offense, and the Dukes rushed for 268, led by Percy Agyei-Obese's career-high 114 with two touchdowns. UTC's Nick Tiano passed for 161 yards and a touchdown to Chris James, and the senior quarterback also ran for a score.

The Dukes put together scoring drives of 68 and 59 yards after UTC's offense had two three-and-out series to start the game, shredding the Mocs' defense and putting their hosts on the ropes early.

UTC, though, rallied with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that included third-down conversions of 17 yards on a dump-off pass to Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks and 18 yards to Bryce Nunnelly. Tiano capped the possession with a 19-yard strike to tight end Chris James, a former quarterback.

UTC got the break it needed when the Dukes fumbled a high kickoff, leading to Tiano's 3-yard touchdown run and a 14-14 tie as the first quarter ended. JMU added a pair of Ethan Ratke field goals in the second quarter to take a 20-14 lead into halftime.

After opening the season with a 24-10 home win against Eastern Illinois, the Mocs trailed 21-6 at halftime before losing 41-20 at Jacksonville State and were behind 21-0 less than halfway through the first quarter of a 45-0 loss at Tennessee.

"We put ourselves in the football game, as bad as it started," Wright said. "I told them at halftime, 'Boys, you've got yourselves in a football game, so let's see what happens now.'

"It wasn't completely awful, but somebody, somewhere has to make a play. We have to make a tackle, we've got to get off the field on third down, somebody has to get open. It's hard to do those things consistently against a team like James Madison, but sometimes you have to."

The Dukes opened the second half with another Ratke field goal to extend their lead to nine, but the Mocs immediately began to answer when freshman Ailym Ford broke off a 24-yard run to midfield.

Moments later they faced fourth-and-8 from the JMU 33, and Tiano connected with Lameric Tucker for a first down to the 12. The drive, and UTC's momentum, ended two plays later when safety D'Angelo Amos intercepted Tiano at the 5.

"I'm not sure Nick realized what (defense) they were in," Wright said. "They were just playing zone after they had played a lot of two-man (deep). It's much harder in space like that, and I just don't think he saw it."

The Dukes, smelling blood, then drove 74 yards in six plays, taking a 30-14 lead when Brandon Polk took a screen pass 48 yards to paydirt and effectively ended any upset drama.

"We'll fight and we will play hard until the end of the game," Tiano said after the tough loss. "We show flashes of being really good and we can play with anybody. It's just getting over that hurdle of not getting in our own way and executing the entire game.

"We need to remember how this feels. We're 1-3 and we're angry about it. But it's a new season and every goal we have is still in front of us - winning the conference and going to the playoffs. We've been tested, we've fought and now we have to play four good quarters."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.