When James Madison’s head coach Curt Cignetti walked into the locker room at halftime against Georgia State, 20 down, he went about it calmly.
It was similar to the Dukes’ 25-point comeback at Appalachian State on Sept. 24, where Cignetti knew he had to help his team refocus. It wasn’t the fact that the other team dominated the Dukes, but mistakes were self-inflicted.
JMU allowed Georgia State to build a three-point lead from lost fumbles, but the Dukes’ defense strengthened in the third quarter to propel the purple and gold to a 42-40 win over Georgia State on Saturday night at Bridgeforth Stadium .
The Dukes recorded five sacks and eight tackles to a loss, led by Jamree Kromah’s 1.5 sacks and two tackles to a defensive end loss.
After the game, Cignetti looked back on the Dukes’ comeback and laughed.
“It’s funny, I’ve been in this situation three or four times in my coaching career and it always seems to go the same way,” Cignetti said. “I just spoke to them very calmly about the fact that we didn’t play good football, here’s what we did. … Let’s play a good second half and not look at the scoreboard. And it appears to be working.”
After halftime, the Dukes came out and grabbed a 1-yard rushing touchdown from Percy Agyei-Obese on four plays that went 75 yards in just under a minute and a half.
And when Agyei-Obese struck it, the dukes’ defense began to blockade the state of Georgia. JMU’s defense forced four 3-and-outs in the third quarter while giving up just five yards of offense.
Cornerback Devyn Coles said, “We knew this was going to happen.”
“Everything went according to plan in the first half,” said Coles. “In the second half we knew it was coming. We just had to be willing to make the game when it was necessary.”
While the JMU’s defense was in full swing, the offensive rolled on.
Quarterback Todd Centeio connected with running back Kaelon Black for a 15-yard touchdown pass to get within a point of the Panthers.
Two drives later, it was the JMU defense that got the ball back for the Dukes. Darren Grainger, quarterback from the US state of Georgia, prevailed against a goaltender. And when he was hit, Coles was there to wrestle the ball away and regain it on the Panthers’ 36-yard line.
For Coles and the rest of the defense, they talked about how similar the game felt to the App State win. And the turnover the Norfolk State transfer forced helped with that.
“They caught us in the first half and we had to go out and win the second half,” said Coles. “And that’s what we did, we went out there and dominated the whole second half.”
It took JMU two games to score Coles’ fumble recovery when Agyei-Obese lobbed for a 36-yard touchdown to put JMU a point ahead.
But despite Agyei-Obese losing a fumble in the first half – one of four lost fumbles and seven in the game in total – Cignetti was confident he would carry the ball on the second-half comeback.
“Michael Jordan missed a lot of game-winning shots, right? He said you miss every shot you don’t take,” Cignetti said. “Things are happening out in the field. … Percy didn’t flinch and came back really strong in the second half.”
Agyei-Obese finished the match with 89 yards for 20 carries and the two scores.
The Dukes scored the touchdown that would win the game when Centeio found Kris Thornton for a 16-yard touchdown, his second that afternoon.
Georgia State scored late in the fourth quarter, but the Dukes defended the 2-point conversion to secure the win.
In the win, Centeio launched 15-for-15 for 192 yards and two touchdowns, marking the second straight week he’d started with a string of completions. Centeio completed his first 11 passes against Old Dominion last week.
But Centeio’s 12th pass against the Monarchs was an interception and he said he learned from that last week to build on this week.
“I think that shows my preparation and my disciplined game,” said Centeio. “I didn’t force the ball at any time today and I’m glad about it.”
Centeio finished with 274 yards on 21 of 27 passes and four touchdowns while adding 12 rushing yards.
As the Dukes completed their second 20-point comeback of the season, Centeio said it was easier to even the score in a game where errors held JMU back than a dominant performance from another team.
And it was no different against Georgia State.
“I feel like in every game we’ve played this year we can compete with every team we’ve played against,” said Centeio. “That’s not the problem, it’s what we screwed up, addressing it and how we can fix it and execute it better. We did it against App State and we did it today.”