ORONO, Maine — James Madison played Saturday like a team that is headed for the playoffs.
The 10th-ranked Dukes turned in a smothering defensive effort that limited the University of Maine to 104 net yards to set the tone for a 31-7 Colonial Athletic Association football victory at Alfond Stadium.
James Madison (7-2, 5-1 CAA) dominated in all phases of the game while taking the next step toward a Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth.
“We know what’s at stake and if we want to go deep in the postseason, it starts today,” said JMU linebacker Stephon Robertson. “We came out and played like it was a playoff game. We were dominant on both sides of the ball and hopefully it will carry over into next week.”
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears slipped to 3-6 overall, 2-4 in league play, and dropped to 0-4 this season on Morse Field.
“We got our butts kicked,” was Cosgrove’s frank assessment.
“They’re always a top-10 team,” he said. “They hadn’t played very well the last couple weeks. This was their week to come up to Orono, Maine, and play a heck of a football game.”
The Dukes received a spark with the return of Justin Thorpe, who was benched a week earlier. The versatile senior quarterback carried 16 times for 111 yards, including scoring runs of 9 and 8 yards, and completed 9 of 12 passes for 108 yards with a 44-yard TD pass.
“We thought that he would play, feared that he would play,” Cosgrove said.
“[Thorpe] scares you with all the things he can do with his feet in addition to when he throws it like he can throw it,” he added.
Dae’Quan Scott ran for 121 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown. James Madison finished with 476 yards of offense, 314 on the ground, and manufactured an almost 15-minute advantage in time of possession.
“It was the most complete game we have played all year,” said JMU coach Mickey Matthews.
UMaine won the 2011 meeting of the two teams at Harrisonburg, Va., where Chris Treister’s highlight-reel conversion rush gave the Bears an overtime win.
UMaine’s offense was shackled by a James Madison defense that afforded it only seven first downs and 19 rushing yards on 22 attempts. Junior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski completed 14 of 25 passes for 85 yards and was intercepted three times.
“They’re a good defense, that’s the bottom line to it,” Wasilewski said. “It was tough to find open guys at times. Sometimes, that’s just the way it is.”
The Bears, who went 4-for-13 on third down, crossed the 50-yard line only twice all day and never got the ball past the JMU 48-yard line.
Robertson led JMU with seven tackles and an interception, while Ryan Smith made two interceptions.
“They’re the top defense in our conference. They played that way,” Cosgrove said. “We would had to have played an outstanding football game [to beat them]. We didn’t.”
Junior safety Jamal Clay provided the only highlight for UMaine. With the Dukes trying to run out the clock, QB Michael Birdsong ran the ball.
As one Black Bear slowed his progress, Clay yanked the ball away and raced 67 yards for a touchdown with 30 seconds left in the game.
“One of my teammates was tackling him and he got held up,” Clay explained. “I went in there trying to get the ball. I attempted to strip it and as I stripped it, it just fell into my hands and I just scored.”
Clay spearheaded a busy UMaine defense with 13 tackles and senior linebacker Donte Dennis made 12 while Khari Al-Mateen and Mike Kozlakowski had nine each.
The Dukes broke a scoreless tie with a season-best 17-play drive that covered 71 yards and consumed six minutes, 16 seconds. Thorpe debuted on the eighth play of the march and the visitors converted twice more on third down before settling for Cameron Starke’s 30-yard field goal with 13:10 left in the second quarter.
JMU threatened again on its next possession, but Al-Mateen and Dennis stopped Thorpe on an option run to the right side on fourth-and-inches from the UMaine 2-yard line.
The momentum was short-lived.
On the Bears’ next play, Wasilewski threw over the middle where Jakarie Jackson deflected the ball and Robertson made a lunging interception.
“I just think they were on point with things,” Wasilewski said. “They executed the plays that they needed to, they made the big plays they needed to, the interceptions.”
The Dukes needed six plays to score, with Thorpe scrambling nine yards for a touchdown that made it 10-0 with 3:46 to play in the half.
“I felt good,” said Thorpe who was suspended for five games last season because of a failed drug test, according to published reports. “I just go out there and play.”
JMU made sure the Bears never got back into the game.
UMaine is back at Alfond Stadium on Saturday for a CAA game against Georgia State.