Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
JMU and North Dakota State have met twice in the past three seasons.
In 2016, the Dukes beat the Bison 27-17 in Fargo to end NDSU’s national championship streak. The game thrilled fans on both sides, with the Dukes throwing the first punch by jumping out to a 17-0 lead. As the Bison tend to do when they’re rarely challenged, they responded.
NDSU tied the game at 17 thanks to stifling defense and a methodical and efficient offense. Then, JMU bounced back. The Dukes switched momentum with a clutch field goal from Tyler Gray, and Bryan Schor’s touchdown strike put the Bison away. JMU won 27-17.
In January of 2018, No. 1 JMU and No. 2 NDSU met in the national title game in Frisco, Texas. This time, it was the Bison who drew first blood.
The Bison defense clamped down on JMU’s offense, helping them jump out to a 17-3 lead. The Dukes nearly added a touchdown but had to settle for a field goal before the half and entered the locker room down 17-6.
This NDSU team spent the season at No. 2 and wasn’t quite as explosive as some of its previous teams, but man, the Bison rarely made mistakes. They avoided mistakes, played physical football on both sides and held onto their lead throughout the second half.
Despite not scoring a second-half point, NDSU’s stellar defense and fantastic first half proved to be the difference. Bryan Schor’s fourth-down pass with under a minute remaining fell harmlessly to the turf, and the Bison won 17-13.
JMU felt like it could’ve, and maybe should’ve won the game, but that’s what makes NDSU great. The Bison just win games, in this case a national championship, even if they don’t play flawless football and allow other teams chances to win. The NDSU program is filled with winners, and that showed in the 2017-18 season.
After those two fantastic matchups that saw both games decided by 10 points or fewer, fans on both sides remained in contact. Whether it’s through heated social media debates or frequent updates on the opposing team from local media members, there’s still a strong connection between the Bison and Dukes even though they rarely meet on the field.
Considering both teams have two of the larger and more engaged fanbases in the FCS, it’s no surprise that there are elements of a rivalry.
Could we see another JMU-NDSU showdown this season?
Through seven weeks, it seems like a real possibility.
The Bison, who were expected to take a step back, have done no such thing. Redshirt freshman quarterback Trey Lance is a stud, and the Bison’s defense remains an immovable force.
JMU nearly knocked off West Virginia in the season opener, and it’s rushing attack looks as good as it has since winning the national title in 2016-17. The Dukes are 6-1 with one of the best defensive lines in the country.
Both teams excel on both sides of the ball, and the national statistics make it impossible to ignore a possible JMU-NDSU postseason matchup.
3rd down conversion percentage
JMU 4th, NDSU 5th
3rd down conversion percentage defense
NDSU 6th, JMU 10th
JMU 4th, NDSU 7th
Fewest penalties per game
NDSU 12th, JMU 19th
JMU 2nd, NDSU 14th
NDSU 5th, JMU 8th
NDSU 3rd, JMU 8th
NDSU 3rd, JMU 6th
Team passing efficiency
NDSU 2nd, JMU 8th
Team passing efficiency defense
NDSU 4th, JMU 32nd
Team sacks per game
NDSU 19th, JMU 23rd
Team tackles for loss per game
JMU 12th, NDSU 57th
Time of possession
NDSU 12th, JMU 18th
JMU 11th, NDSU 26th
Kickoff return defense
JMU 22, NDSU 59
JMU 16th, NDSU 39th
NDSU 10th, JMU 103rd
Punt return defense
JMU 11th, NDSU 85th
In summary, both teams are really freakin’ good with a few interesting weaknesses. While NDSU appears to be the more dominant team, the Dukes have looked like one of the top FCS teams in the country through the halfway mark of the year.
Ben DiNucci remains one of the most efficient passers in the FCS, and the Dukes have five players with at least 248 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. It’s a loaded team with a talented defense and a quality special teams unit.
Neither team seems to be slowing down, and if we’re lucky, we could be in for another late postseason battle between and JMU-NDSU.