James Madison has plenty to play for in its final home game.
The No. 18 Dukes (10-0, 6-0 Sun Belt) have a 13-game winning streak and senior day ceremonies before the game — and also no chance at an automatic bowl invitation.
The NCAA's rejection of the school's request for a waiver of a rule barring programs stepping up to the Bowl Subdivision from auto-qualifying for a bowl for two years came Wednesday night, and history suggests the disappointment felt by the Dukes, their coaches and a raucous crowd will be evident on the field.
Coach Curt Cignetti has said he doesn't expect a scene like last year when in similar circumstances the Dukes beat Coastal Carolina 47-7, blared “We are the Champions” over the P.A. system and Cignetti said he wished they'd scored 65.
Appalachian State (6-4, 4-2) will arrive at Bridgeforth Stadium with designs on ending the Dukes' perfect season, then needing help from them a week later to possibly emerge as the East Division champion and representative in the championship game. They are tied in the loss column with the Chanticleers (7-3, 5-2), who host James Madison in the regular season finale
“We still have a lot to clean up, but our players are playing and executing at a high level right now, and we’re eager to keep digging and keep chipping away because we have a lot to play for,” Mountaineers coach Shawn Clark said this week.
As if the Mountaineers needed any additional motivation, a year ago, they led James Madison 28-3 In Boone, N.C. before the Dukes rallied to win 32-28.
“I expect everybody’s best shot when they play us. I mean, we were picked to win the East and we know we had a target on our back this year,” Cignetti said. “We’ve caught everybody’s best shot. Nobody plays a down game against us, and I don’t expect anything less this Saturday.”
McCLOUD THE MAGNIFICENT
Dukes QB Jordan McCloud is at his third school, and he found the right one. He has 26 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions and has been better of late with 868 passing yards and eight TDs in his last two games while running for 173 yards and two scores. Besides his arm and running, Cignetti said, “He beats you with his brain.”
NOT FAR BEHIND
The Mountaineers' Joey Aguilar took over the job in the first half of the opener, threw a 32-yard TD pass on his first attempt and has hardly slowed down. He, too, has 26 TD passes against just seven interceptions.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
Speedy WR Reggie Brown had the first 200-yard receiving game in JMU history last week against UConn with touchdowns covering 80 and 55 yards. He leads the Dukes with 45 catches, averages 20 yards per catch and has eight TDs.
Appalachian State is just 2-10 against Top 25 teams since moving up to FBS in 2014, but the two wins have come in the last four games, and they've been plenty close in several others. Seven of their last eight games against ranked foes ended with one-possession margins, including overtime losses at Penn State and Tennessee.
The Mountaineers' Nate Noel was leading the nation is rushing when he was sidelined in October by an injury. He seems back just in time for App State's biggest game. Last week against Georgia State, Noel broke off a 61-yard TD run.
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