West Virginia defeats Ben DiNucci-led James Madison in opener | TribLIVE.com

West Virginia defeats Ben DiNucci-led James Madison in opener

Associated Press
West Virginia coach Neal Brown and quarterback Austin Kendall chat between plays during the first half against James Madison on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Morgantown, W.Va.
James Madison quarterback Ben DiNucci, a Pine-Richland grad and former Pitt QB, attempts a pass against West Virginia.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Austin Kendall threw two second-half touchdown passes in his debut at West Virginia, and the Mountaineers overcame some struggles to hold off James Madison, 20-13, on Saturday.

Kendall couldn’t generate a ton of offense under constant pressure, but the Oklahoma graduate transfer did just enough to give new coach Neal Brown a victory in his debut while preventing the Mountaineers from losing to an FCS opponent for the first time.

West Virginia’s strengths entering the season were its depth at running back and on the offensive and defensive lines. All of those units underperformed as James Madison dominated the line of scrimmage throughout.

The Mountaineers averaged 1.4 yards per rush, leaving it up to Kendall to bail them out.

He did — barely.

“Say what you want,” Brown said. “The offense wasn’t pretty.”

Kendall found Tevin Bush on a short pass that turned into a 41-yard gain to start the third quarter, leading to Kendall’s 28-yard TD toss to Florida State transfer George Campbell.

Evan Staley kicked two field goals for West Virginia, including a 43-yarder early in the fourth that put West Virginia ahead 13-10.

Keith Washington intercepted Ben DiNucci’s next pass, and West Virginia took over at the Dukes 30. On third down, Kendall found Bush wide open behind two defenders in the end zone on a 22-yard scoring pass. Kendall finished 27 of 42 for 260 yards.

The Mountaineers entered the season with a young squad, and their concerns only seemed to grow after getting outgained 328-294.

James Madison’s DiNucci, a Pine-Richland product and former Pitt player, impressed with both his running and passing. He twice converted long third-down throws on the next drive, leading to Ethan Ratke’s 31-yard field goal with 4 minutes, 33 seconds remaining.

James Madison had two chances with the ball after that but couldn’t get into scoring position.

“We weren’t consistent enough with our passing game,” Dukes coach Curt Cignetti said. “I thought they wore us down a little bit as the game went on.”

The Dukes looked like the better team for much of the game under their new coach and showed why they are ranked No. 2 in the FCS preseason coaches’ poll.

“I think we have a chance to be a good football team,” Cignetti said.

West Virginia plays at Missouri next Saturday.

Categories: Sports | WVU
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