HARRISONBURG, Va. — Ninth-ranked Elon football capped a game-winning touchdown drive in the closing minutes with David Cheek hitting Avery Jones in the corner of the end zone to give Elon a 27-24 victory over No. 2 James Madison at Bridgeforth Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
"This is a great win against a very, very good football team," said Elon head coach Curt Cignetti. "I'm sure it shocked a lot of people but it didn't shock us because we can be a good football team when we play right and I'm just really proud of the poise we played with, especially in the fourth quarter. It was a back and forth game but I'm proud of our guys and it's a great win."
James Madison had won a FCS-best 19 straight games at home while also beating each of its last 22 CAA foes in both the regular season and postseason action.
Trailing 24-20 after a JMU touchdown with 7:22 to play, Elon (4-1, 2-0 CAA Football) forced a turnover with 4:16 to play with Jarquez Bizzell knocking it loose from Dylan Stapleton before Gerg Liggs, Jr. pounced on it. Taking over on the JMU 26, the Phoenix put together a 10-play, 74-yard drive with the final two plays a 14-yard completion to De'Sean McNair and a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jones with 1:17 to play.
On the ensuing JMU drive, Connor Christiansen picked off a Ben DiNucci pass with 23 seconds to play to seal the Elon victory, its first over the Dukes in program history.
Entering the fourth quarter, JMU led 12-10 with De'Sean McNair scoring the only touchdown of the day to that point in the second quarter. Early in the fourth, though, Malcolm Summers took the second play of Elon's drive for a career-long 59 yards to the house to give the Phoenix a 20-12 lead. In all, Summers finished with a season-high 186 yards to mark the second-most by a CAA rusher to date this season.
Following Summers' score, JMU engineered back-to-back touchdown drives – each of 55 yards in less than two minutes apiece – to go ahead 24-20 before its final two drives ended with turnovers, the only two of the day for the Dukes.
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Looking to put the first points of the day on the board, Elon missed a 44-yard field goal wide left with 3:02 to go in the first quarter. From there, JMU put together three consecutive drives that ended with Ethan Ratke field goals from 35, 32 and 39 yards out to give JMU a 9-0 lead with 5:26 to play in the first half.
On Elon's ensuing drive after the Dukes went up 9-0, Cheek hit Corey Joyner over the middle for a 51-yard completion to put the Phoenix on the 24. One play later, Cheek hit Matt Foster to setup first and goal on the one and McNair capped the touchdown drive to cut the lead to 9-7 just 49 seconds after Elon took the ball.
To open the second half, the two sides traded field goals, but it was Elon scoring on the opening drive to take a 10-9 lead that marked the first time JMU has trailed at home since the 2017 FCS quarterfinals against Weber State.
-The win marks Elon's first over a top 5 program at the Division I level. Previously, Elon twice beat No. 6-ranked teams in Richmond and William & Mary.
-Malcolm Summers has now rushed for 100-plus yards in each of the last three games.
-Zack Monson made his first start of the season and had a game-high 12 tackles with seven solo stops.
-Elon finished with 498 yards of offense to JMU's 419. The Phoenix outrushed the Duke 212 to 103. JMU entered the game averaging 220.4 yards on the ground per game thus far.
-After Elon's first touchdown drive, Skyler Davis and the Phoenix special teams unit executed an onside kick to retain possession on the Elon 46. The drive crossed midfield, but stalled out and Elon pinned JMU inside the 10.
-James Madison returned a 74-yard interception for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but it was called back for illegal hands to the face on the Dukes.
-Elon went 1-for-15 on third downs on the day. JMU went 8-for-19.
Closing a stretch in which it plays four of its first six games of the season on the road, Elon will head to Delaware on Saturday, Oct. 13, for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff against the Blue Hens. Elon has played Delaware twice in its CAA Football tenure to date, falling both times in 2014 and 2015.