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James Madison earns first Division I-AA championship
Dec. 17, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- James Madison ran its way to its first Division I-AA national championship.
Maurice Fenner had 164 yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Justin Rascati also ran for two scores in a 31-21 victory over Montana on Friday night. The Dukes rolled up 314 yards rushing en route to their first national title.
"It was two great quarterbacks. The difference was we could run it, and they couldn't," James Madison coach Mickey Matthews said.
Rascati ran for 57 yards on 11 carries, and Fenner had 29 carries.
The Dukes (13-2) were the first team to reach the title game by winning all three playoff games on the road, advancing past the second round for the first time.
The two-time champion Grizzlies (12-3), playing in their fifth title game and led by Colorado transfer quarterback Craig Ochs, took a 21-17 lead in the third quarter, but couldn't stop James Madison's rushing attack.
Trailing by four points, James Madison responded with a 72-yard drive -- all on the ground. Fenner capped the drive by pounding in for a score from the 1, putting the Dukes ahead for good.
Montana missed a 31-yard field goal at the end of the third quarter that would have tied the game, and the Dukes all but sealed the title on their next drive.
Rascati scored on a 6-yard run one down after getting hit in the head, a play that resulted in a roughing-the-passer penalty on Montana's Kerry Mullan that gave James Madison a first down.
The Grizzlies had a chance to rally, but James Madison's Clint Kent intercepted Ochs' pass with 6:17 remaining, and Montana was unable to move the ball the rest of the game.
"It's a dream come true," said Rascati, who transferred from Louisville after last season. "It's something I've always dreamed of throwing in the backyard."
James Madison's fans threw yellow streamers and some even jumped down from the stands onto the field to celebrate with the team as the final seconds ticked off the clock. All stayed on the field during a short fireworks show while security officials took down the goal posts.
Montana appeared to be in control in the first quarter after holding James Madison to 2 total yards on offense (minus-4 rushing, and 6 passing). The Grizzlies' score on their opening drive was the only touchdown James Madison allowed in the first quarter this season.
But the Dukes eventually got rolling on the ground.
"I think they decided they were going to do it," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. "They played a great game and deserved to win."
Montana was trying to win the school's third title, a championship that would have provided a perfect ending to Ochs' college career.
He transferred from Colorado in the middle of the 2002 season after sustaining several concussions and having differences with coach Gary Barnett.
Ochs struggled with some injuries last season, but had a fabulous senior year. He finished 29-of-38 for a career-high 371 yards and three touchdowns.
"It's absolutely been a great year for us," Ochs said. "It's a year I'll always remember."
It was James Madison's quarterback transfer who was the star of this game.
Rascati was 13-of-18 for 132 yards.
Both teams complained about the poor field conditions. After the first series, players started to kick up huge chunks of sod. At times, players picked up the pieces of sod and threw them to the side before the snap.
The field, which is used by the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, was re-sodded last month and had a sandy base.
"That is probably the worst field I've ever played on in all my life," Rascati said.
Fenner and Alvin Banks rotated throughout the first part of the season before both were injured and missed several games. Raymond Hines filled in admirably, but he hurt his ribs in last week's win over William & Mary and didn't play Friday.
Both of Fenner's touchdown runs were from 1 yard, the first coming with 16 seconds left before halftime and giving James Madison a 10-7 lead.
Rascati scored from 11 yards to extend the Dukes' lead after halftime. Ochs threw touchdowns passes Levander Segars and Willie Walden in the third quarter.
The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2004, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved
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