ORONO – Justin Thorpe, a fifth-year quarterback for 10th-ranked James Madison, had not played a down for the Dukes since Coach Mickey Matthews pulled him in the third quarter of a loss to Richmond two weeks ago.
Thorpe finally returned to the lineup Saturday, late in the first quarter against the University of Maine.
“We thought that he would play,” Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said. “We feared that he would play, because I’ve seen him on his upside.”
Thorpe turned a scoreless game into a blowout, leading James Madison to a 31-7 Colonial Athletic Association victory on a raw and blustery Saturday afternoon before a hardy crowd of 2,951 at Alfond Stadium.
Running for 111 yards and two touchdowns and passing for 108 yards and another score, Thorpe led JMU (7-2 overall, 5-1 CAA) over a Maine (3-6, 2-4) squad with only one more chance to avoid a winless home season.
“He came in and gave us a spark,” said JMU running back Dae’Quan Scott, who surpassed 100 yards rushing for the third game in a row and dashed any Maine comeback hopes with a 27-yard TD run on the second play from scrimmage after intermission.
Scott’s score gave JMU a 17-0 advantage and followed a 33-yard run by Thorpe — who also served a five-game suspension last season for reportedly failing a drug test — after the Dukes had returned the second-half kickoff close to midfield.
“My touchdown run, he opened it up for me,” Scott said. “I feel like if he didn’t run the first one, I don’t think I could have scored like I did.”
James Madison kept the Black Bears out of the red zone, picked off three Marcus Wasilewski passes and sacked him three times.
“They’re the top defense in our conference, and they played that way,” Cosgrove said.
The Black Bears averted a shutout in the final minute when safety Jamal Clay ripped the ball from JMU freshman quarterback Michael Birdsong and ran 67 yards for a touchdown.
“One of my teammates was tackling him and he got held up,” Clay said. “I went in there trying to get the ball.”
Clay’s return was more than three times longer than Maine’s entire rushing output (19 yards on 22 attempts). The passing wasn’t much better as a harried Wasilewski completed 14 of 25 for just 85 yards.
“It was tough to find open guys,” Wasilewski said. “Sometimes that’s just the way it is. You’ve got to try and find windows, and sometimes they’re a little tight.”
James Madison has won six of the past seven meetings between the schools, with the exception being last year’s 25-24 overtime affair in Virginia.
“Maine was very good last year,” said Matthews. “I thought Maine deserved to beat us last year.”
That memory, coupled with Maine’s recent road victories over Delaware and William & Mary, ensured that James Madison would not take the Black Bears lightly.
Only a resilient effort by Maine’s defense kept the game close through two quarters. The Black Bears forced a field goal early in the second quarter after stalling a 17-play JMU drive, then stopped the Dukes on fourth-and-inches at the 2.
“The defense kept fighting and hanging in there and then had the stop,” Cosgrove said. “But we gave the ball back to ‘em.”
Indeed, Maine’s first play after taking over on downs was an interception, and Thorpe quickly scrambled for a touchdown from 9 yards out to give JMU a 10-0 lead.
That the margin was only 10 gave Maine reason for optimism at halftime.
“(If) we get a stop right away and get the offense going, we’re back in the game,” Cosgrove said. “But we got a poor kickoff and they went right through us, bang-bang.”
James Madison held a 476-104 advantage in total offense and ran 82 plays to Maine’s 47.
The Black Bears wrap up their home schedule Saturday against Georgia State before finishing at Rhode Island.
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: