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James Madison claims FCS championship over Youngstown State

James Madison Dukes running back Khalid Abdullah (32) celebrates scoring a touchdown with quarterback Bryan Schor (17) in the second quarter against the Youngstown State Penguins in the Division I college football championship game at Toyota Stadium. Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

FRISCO, Texas — There was never any doubt.

From start to finish, James Madison flexed its muscle as the king of FCS football Saturday, beating Youngstown State 28-14 at Toyota Stadium  to win a national title for the second time in school history.

The Dukes (14-1) ran through the Colonial Athletic Association unbeaten before rattling off three straight wins in the playoffs, which included knocking off five-time reigning champion North Dakota State in the semifinals on its way to the title game.

“Today, I don’t think I could have asked for a better team effort,” first-year JMU coach Mike Houston said. “On all three phases it was a display of what we believe in.”

Saturday’s title-game win didn’t deviate from what’s worked for JMU all season long — using strong defense and momentum-swinging special teams to set up its explosive offense.

Madison never trailed in the game and held a 21-0 lead a few minutes into the second quarter.

“That’s what we’ve tried to do all year, is get off to a fast start,” Houston said. “It was a culmination of all three phases working together and clicking early in the ball game.”

JMU junior tight end Jonathan Kloosterman hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bryan Schor to get the Dukes on the board less than three minutes into the game.

It was his fifth touchdown reception of the playoffs — all five came in the red zone.

Schor said he knows to look for Kloosterman near the goal line.

“He’s willed himself into being a great football player,” Schor said. “And what makes him special is that you always know what you’re going to get from him. He always works hard to get in the right spot.”

The scoring pass came two plays after senior linebacker Justin Wellons blocked a punt following Youngstown State’s three-and-out on its first possession. It was the second blocked punt of the postseason for Madison — freshman Adam Smith had one in the team’s quarterfinal victory over Sam Houston State.

“We saw a look that we had seen on film,” Wellons said of his punt block. “Fortunately, they left me off the edge to make a play.”

Youngstown State (12-4) went three-and-out again as the Penguins couldn’t get its running game going. Youngstown State entered Saturday averaging 257.5 rushing yards per game, but JMU held the Penguins to only one rushing yard in the first quarter and 21 rushing yards in the contest.

Second-year Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini said JMU’s defensive front did a good playing the run.

“We didn’t play our best game upfront,” Pelini said. “They had a really good game upfront. All year we had stayed out of second-and-long and third-and-long and obviously we didn’t do that today.”

Schor didn’t need long to strike again. He capped a four-play, 50-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Rashard Davis.

Davis might have played a role in setting up the short field too. Youngstown State punter Mark Schuler shanked his kick, avoiding a possible return by Davis, who had four touchdowns on punt returns this season.

“Them looking back there at me, it allowed my teammates to get back there and block a punt because they were concentrating on slowing me,” Davis said. “Same with the shank, but it’s something where we can got them out of their element.”

From there, the Dukes turned to the most consistent player on the roster, senior running back Khalid Abdullah.

Abdullah carried the ball 26 times for 101 yards. He scored from a yard out to put JMU ahead 21-0 in the second quarter and then again from two yards out to put his team ahead 28-7 with 10:10 left in the third.

He was named the game’s most outstanding player. He also set the school’s single-season rushing (1,809 yards) and career record for total touchdowns (44).

“At the end of the day, it’s about the team,” Abdullah said. “Outside of the individual records, it was about hoisting the trophy.”