BOONE, N.C. — Mousetraps. Meatballs. Another Miracle.
Next up: JMU.
ESPN College GameDay’s visit to App State and the subsequent Hail Mary victory against Troy, dubbed “Miracle on the Mountain: Part 2” during Adam Witten’s radio call, with WASU student broadcaster Jeffrey Marchin enthusiastically yelling, “Holy Mother Meatballs” on his call, made for a High Country day to never forget. That win capped a week with visible “Don’t Take the Cheese” messaging to a team riding high from beating No. 6 Texas A&M.
That was last Saturday.
This is Black Saturday.
A crazy September for the Mountaineers (2-1, 1-0) continues with another home game, this one against FBS newcomer James Madison (2-0, 0-0). With kickoff scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on ESPN+, it will be the first Sun Belt Conference game for the Dukes, who opened the season with dominant wins against Middle Tennessee (44-7) and FCS-level Norfolk State (63-7) before having a bye on perhaps the busiest home Saturday in App State Football history.
“What I’m excited the most about is how we compete to the very end,” App State head coach Shawn Clark said.
There’s plenty of shared FCS history between the Mountaineers and Dukes, including a Kidd Brewer Stadium ending in 2007 that’s on par with the wild finishes from the two “Miracle on the Mountain” games, but now they’ll face off annually as Sun Belt East Division foes.
Since its 2014 transition to FBS football, App State has won four Sun Belt titles, gone 6-1 in bowl games (with a record-setting 6-0 start) and posted a record of 81-25, including 80-20 in its last 100 games. JMU went 70-11 with one national title, three finals appearances and five semifinal berths in its last six FCS seasons.
The Dukes already have made a strong impression, as they allowed 21 total rushing yards and threw nine touchdown passes in two routs to open this season.
“This is a program that has played for national championships,” Clark said. “They play the game the right way. They’re tough. They’re physical. They can run the football. They don’t get beat on defense. They have great special teams. They’re leading about every statistical category in college football, so that’s going to be tough for us this week.”
Making its first trip to Boone since App State used a late fourth-down stop, a diving fourth-down conversion and a fumble recovery inside the 10-yard line to pull out a 28-27 win in a 2007 playoff opener that propelled the Mountaineers to a third straight national title, JMU brings a veteran head coach in Curt Cignetti, an aggressive defense and a powerful offense back to The Rock.
App State’s defense forced a turnover on the first play from scrimmage against Troy, recorded three first-quarter sacks and limited the Trojans to seven second-half points. They managed only 359 yards of offense, including just 46 yards on 29 rushing attempts, and perhaps one overlooked part of the Mountaineers’ late rally last weekend was their three-and-out stop to trigger an intentional safety, followed by the late free kick that set up the Hail Mary.
Andrew Parker (in on two stops), Tyler Bird, Steven Jones Jr. and Kaleb Dawson all made tackles or assists to limit Troy’s runs to gains of 3, 1 and 5 yards, leaving the Trojans with a fourth-and-1 from their own 11.
JMU’s quarterback, graduate transfer Todd Centeio, spent the 2017-19 seasons at Temple and the 2020-21 seasons at Colorado State. He started 12 games for the Rams last season, throwing 15 touchdown passes, and he’s thrown nine touchdowns without tossing an interception through his first two games with the Dukes.
Preseason all-conference slot receiver Kris Thornton has been the most frequent target with 18 catches for 247 yards and five scores, increasing his career total to 21 receiving touchdowns. On the ground, 213-pound Percy Ageyi-Obese (85.0 rushing yards a game) leads the way, followed by Centeio at 69.5 yards a game with only two sacks taken. Ageyi-Obese has rushed for 2,765 yards in his career, highlighted by a 1,216-yard season in 2019.
“They have a great quarterback who can beat you with his arms or his feet,” Clark said. “He kind of reminds you of (Coastal Carolina’s) Grayson McCall in some ways. They have a great receiver in No. 8 in Thornton, and their running back is special. They have great playmakers.
App State had an efficient offensive day last weekend, going a combined 11 of 20 on third and fourth downs. Only an incomplete fourth-and-goal pass from the Troy 2 to cap a 17-play march that consumed nearly nine minutes prevented the Mountaineers from being perfect on four fourth-down attempts, but they overcame that thanks to Chase Brice’s fourth-and-10 connection with Christan Horn for the game-winning score.
James Madison’s defense currently leads the nation in fewest yards allowed per game (163.0), fewest rushing yards allowed per game (10.5) and most tackles for loss per game (11.5).
Six different defenders have contributed in the sack category, and 17 defenders have been part of a stop behind the line of scrimmage. Mike linebacker Taurus Jones, who ranks second on the team with 11 tackles, also has 2.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
“Sometimes when you see an aggressive defense, it’s high-risk, high-reward,” Clark said. “Through the first two games, it’s been all reward for JMU.”