HARRISONBURG, Va. – Watching a replay of the final play from Saturday’s game at No. 7 James Madison, Maine quarterback Warren Smith mouthed the word “Wow,” as his coach answered a question in the postgame media session at newly renovated Bridgeforth Stadium.
Smith was stellar all day, passing for 295 yards and a touchdown, but it was his backup, senior Chris Treister, who produced the awe-inspiring play that gave Maine a 25-24 victory, the No. 19 Black Bears’ first over the Dukes since 2003.
After Smith connected on an 8-yard touchdown pass with tight end Justin Perillo in overtime to counter JMU’s score, Jack Cosgrove called an eccentric play that worked when Treister, running to a near-empty right side of the field, converted a 2-point conversion. Treister dived at the 2-yard line and helicoptered into the end zone after a collision with linebacker Vidal Nelson.
“As soon as I decided to tuck the ball and run it, I wasn’t going to let anybody stop me, whether it was Ray Lewis back there or anybody,” Treister said. “I was going to get into the end zone because I knew how much it meant for this team to get a ‘W.’ “
It’s the first time since a 6-0 start in 2002 that Maine (4-1, 2-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association) has won four of its first five games.
When asked why he gambled with a 2-point conversion instead of trying to prolong the game with an extra point, Cosgrove asked, “Why not?”
It was far from an ordinary play.
Cosgrove put his offensive line on the left side of the field, with running back Pushaun Brown behind it and two receivers wide to the right.
Perillo, the tight end, was alone in the center of the field, and he snapped the ball underhand while standing sideways to Treister, who was seven yards behind the ball.
Treister dropped back for a pass option, then decided to run — taking off just in time to get to the goal line.
“We’ve got a guy in charge who we have complete confidence in,” Cosgrove said of Treister, a 6-foot, 195-pounder from Portland High. “He’s as sharp and smart a football player and competitor as we have in our program. We felt it would be something that would have a chance to work, especially with him there.”
James Madison (4-2, 2-1), which has the CAA’s top rushing offense, piled up 304 yards on the ground, including 212 from backup running back Jordan Anderson. He got the bulk of the carries in the second half after starter Dae’Quan Scott fumbled. The Dukes played with the lead for much of the game and never trailed until the final play.
The Dukes took a 17-14 lead with 2:06 remaining in the fourth quarter when Cameron Starke made a field goal to cap a 13-play, 67-yard drive that took 6 minutes, 54 seconds. But Maine drove 47 yards and set up a field goal by Brian Harvey with 44 seconds left.
“I’ve never seen anybody play like (Smith) did tonight,” James Madison Coach Mickey Matthews said. “If he’s not the national player of the year, I don’t know who is.”
Madison shut down Brown, who was limited to 54 yards on 15 carries. But Maine used its passing game to do damage.
Smith found Perillo nine times for 101 yards and connected with junior wide receiver Maurice McDonald nine times for 67 yards. Arthur Williams and Derek Session had four catches apiece.
“We were all on the same page the whole game,” Smith said. “You’ve got to credit everybody.”