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In the Harrisonburg, Va. DII regional, both James Madison and Towson handily defeated their opponents to set up what is most likely going to be the most competitive Elite Eight matchup in the country. James Madison brushed away Rowan, 53-15, while Towson silenced Grand Valley State, 59-24.
James Madison got off to a slow start, knocking the ball on in enemy territory three times in the first five minutes. Rowan capitalized on the mistake, taking the ball down the field and getting on the board first to take a 5-0 lead. James Madison managed to take control of the game despite not playing particularly well. “We made loads of mistakes. It was probably the worst we played all year,” said James Madison coach Mark Lambourne. “I think it was just a little bit of nerves and just lots of turnovers.”
Thanks to a potent offense, the Dukes were able to easily overcome their mistakes. With a balanced attack, James Madison scored by outflanking Rowan as well as running through them. Both wings dotted for the Dukes, while flyhalf Chris Kunkel and prop Mo Katz scored twice each as well. “It wasn’t from one facet of play, we just sort of won the ball, wouldn’t do much with it and then would win it again and move down the field and score,” added Lambourne.
Although he was happy with the victory, Lambourne believes his team kind of went through the motions today. James Madison will have to play a lot better to beat a tough Towson squad. “We have got to come out and play like we have all year. Towson will be a little more physical, they more the ball faster. We have to bring our regular game and make sure that we compete.”
Ironically, like James Madison, Towson fell behind early only to come from behind for a comfortable victory. Grand Valley State opened up the scoring with a try in the first couple of minutes. “There were times when that team were very skilled and you could see they had good runners and good athletes and at times we just let our guard down,” said Towson coach Don Stone.
Towson settled into the game after yielding a score to put up 35 unanswered points. Brian and Tim Shields scored three of the five tries, while Eric Sweeney was nearly perfect on the day with the boot. Sweeney nailed several tough sideline kicks to put Towson up, 35-7, in the first half. Grand Valley State added a score before halftime to leave it 35-12 at the break.
“This is a game of momentum, and when you get to the Sweet 16 every team understands that concept,” added Stone. “We got that momentum for the next 20-25 minutes and it was just one try after the other.”
After a Towson penalty, Grand Valley State swung the momentum back in its favor at the start of the second half. The Michigan side scored two tries, cutting the lead to 38-24. “I was a little nervous with the lead at 14 but at this level I was not surprised,” said Stone. “If you would have asked me, however, at the beginning of the game if we won by five points I would have thrilled by that margin. It is all about advancing to the next round.”
Towson stemmed the momentum and reeled off the next 21 points to seal the victory. Tomorrow, the Maryland side will be facing a very good James Madison side at home and will need to continue to improve its level of play. Towson will welcome back four starters that missed the game today that sat out due to injuries. Nevertheless, “We have to play better than we did today,” said Stone. “We had some turnovers and some questionable decisions.”
A berth to the final four is on the line tomorrow. The game between James Madison and Towson will kick off in Harrisonburg at 1PM.