The West Virginia football team opened up their regular season slate in nail-biting fashion by knocking off James Madison University 20-13.
JMU jumped on the scoreboard first in the opening quarter following a Solomon Vanhorse nine-yard rush for the early 7-0 Dukes lead. The scoring drive saw Vanhorse rush for 22 yards while quarterback Ben DiNucci found receiver Brandon Polk for a pair of 21-yard bullets.
West Virginia’s offense fell silent in the first quarter despite a fumbled punt return by JMU following the Mountaineer’s first series of the game, which ultimately ended with an Evan Staley missed field goal.
The Mountaineers finally chipped into the lead behind a 38-yard field goal by Staley on the opening drive of the second quarter. Kendall sparked the scoring drive as the redshirt junior threw for 28 yards on three plays before the field goal.
Kendall struggled to move the ball throughout the first half, throwing for 89 yards on 14 of 23 pass attempts, including a 20-yard strike to T.J. Simmons which helped set up the Mountaineers’ first score.
“I knew we were going to have to throw. That’s probably where I thought we’d be,” first year head coach Neal Brown said after the game. “I thought we’d run more plays. We didn’t run very many plays…I think that’s kind of who we are right now.”
West Virginia came out firing in the second half as Tevin Bush began the half with a 41-yard reception which pushed the Mountaineers up to the James Madison 41-yard line.
“I was really proud of this group and how we reacted at halftime,” Brown said. “I thought we took control of the game really from the first drive offensively in the second half on throughout.”
A 19-yard pass to Sean Ryan then set up a 28-yard touchdown pass down the sideline to George Campbell for the first Mountaineer lead of the day at 10-7.
The ensuing JMU drive spanned over six minutes and 13 plays before Ethan Ratke knocked down a 29-yard field goal to knot the score at 10-10.
The Mountaineers led off the fourth quarter by marching down to JMU’s 26-yard line where Staley hit a 43-yard field goal with 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Keith Washington Jr. jumped in front of DiNucci’s first pass of the fourth quarter for an interception, which led to a Bush 22-yard touchdown to stretch the West Virginia lead to ten points, 20-10.
Ratke nailed a 31-yard field goal on the Dukes’ next drive as the West Virginia defense halted JMU’s offense for the third time of the half.
The Mountaineers defense played well during the second half which allowed West Virginia to hold onto their seven-point victory. The defense allowed only six points throughout the second half while forcing JMU to punt three times as well as picking off DiNucci in the process.
“We tightened our coverage up,” Brown explained. “We played a lot more man coverage as far as tighter coverage… what we did is we tightened our movements down.”
Josh Chandler led the Mountaineers on the day with nine tackles, followed by Sean Mahone, Dylan Tonkery and Josh Norwood with four tackles apiece.
On the other side of the ball, Kendall finished the day completing 27 of 42 passes for 260 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Bush led all wide receivers on the day with 74 yards and a touchdown while Martell Pettaway led all rushers with 20 yards.
West Virginia will travel to Missouri on Saturday at noon to take on Kelly Bryant and the Tigers which will be aired on ESPN or ESPN 2.