Before almost every JMU offensive game, rap music echoed through Kidd Brewer Stadium. Chants of “App!” “State!” bounced off either side of The Rock, as the stadium is also known, in a visceral echo as Mountaineer worshipers pointed skyward.
Deep green with a splash of orange surrounded the venue and set the backdrop for the first-ever game of the JMU Sun Belt Conference in Boone, North Carolina, against Appalachian State. Before the opening jab, the Dukes’ kickoff return unit nodded their heads and jumped up and down in anticipation of the shoe, as they faced the sixth-biggest crowd in App State history at 33,248 players.
All of this set the stage for an instant classic at The Rock as JMU defeated App State 32-28 in a two-half storyline, renewing the rivalry after a 14-year hiatus. JMU improved to 3-0 (1-0 Sun Belt) while App State fell to 2-2 (1-1 Sun Belt).
“We’ve been talking all week about what it takes, and then yesterday we were talking about a quote from Gandhi about ‘an indomitable will’… about a will that would never be subdued or conquered and resilience that overcomes the unexpected said the JMU head coach Curt Cignetti. “It was such a day.”
However, JMU didn’t channel that energy in the first half.
After a long opening possession from JMU’s offense that resulted in three points, App State exploded with 28 unanswered in the first half, going up to 28-10 at halftime.
App State Redshirt sophomore wide receiver DaShaun Davis catalyzed the Mountaineers’ first drive with a 26-yard catch as the game entered the second quarter, which ran back with a 2-yard score from Redshirt Junior, the Cameroon Peoples , ended to give the Mountaineers a 7-3 lead with 13:45 to go at the half.
On JMU’s first play after the Peoples touchdown, Dukes running back redshirt junior Latrele Palmer fumbled. The Mountaineers quickly capitalized, rushing for 22 yards in four games, culminating in Redshirt senior quarterback Chase Brice dodging a JMU defender in the pocket, rolling to the right, and redshirt junior tight end Miller Gibbs in the back right corner of the End zone found to put app State 14-3 two minutes later.
Another JMU turnover, this time with Centeio putting the ball on the floor, gave the Mountaineers a short field they used after Noel’s five-yard tumble to go 6-10 to 28-3 App State in the second quarter to stand.
Other than fumbling in the second quarter, Brice was nearly flawless in the first half. The two-time transfer didn’t miss a pass in his first eight attempts, but two turnovers in the second half – another fumble and an interception by Jailin Walker as a sophomore – were his downfall. He finished the game 17-to-28 for 235 yards with two touchdowns and the Walker pick.
Redshirt junior kicker Camden Wise — who scored the first field goal from another JMU kicker as Ethan Ratke (2017-21) in 41 games earlier in the game, missed a 28-yarder in the first half.
The JMU offense repeatedly shot themselves in the foot early and committed four first-half penalties, including multiple false starts, that were at the mercy of a deafening App State crowd.
The second half, however, was a very different story. The Dukes beat App State 22-0.
The alignment? Perhaps more intangible than tangible — Cignetti said he went to the sidelines to tell players football should be fun and easy to play. JMU grad transfer quarterback Todd Centeio — who finished 16-28 overall with 265 yards and three touchdowns — said he told the team in the locker room the score was 0-0.
“Anything can happen. Football is a long sport, a long game,” said Centeio. “You just have to keep hitting the stone and then the stone will eventually break.”
But it took a while. It started with a kick-catch interference penalty at 4:12 in the third quarter, in which the JMU took advantage of field position at the Mountaineers 40-yard line. Centeio struggled for a first down in 4th and 5th place before hitting his first career rushing touchdown at JMU with a two-yard sprint to make it 1:19 in the third quarter to 28-17 App State bring.
Then came another stop and a five-play, quick-hitting 92-yard drive that ended with a high-arc Centeio pass to transfer wide receiver Terrence Greene Jr. for a 36-yard score. A successful two-point conversion cut App State’s lead to 28-25, with 11:28 to go.
The comeback kept coming — Walker sat right in front of a Brice slant pass and sprang up for an interception that the JMU offense capitalized on two games later via a redshirt rookie Kaelon Black with a two-yard jump.
“We knew it was coming in the fourth quarter. The back end was like, ‘Look [run-pass options]’ Walker said of his interception. “I saw the ball and I reached and grabbed it. I am very excited about it.”
The score stood. App State had one last try with 2:06 in the game, but a hit by Redshirt junior safety Que Reid against Davis shook a possible finish and gave JMU the ball.
“JMU” chants echoed through Kidd Brewer as victory loomed in sight – The Rock felt more like Bridgeforth. Centio said it boosted morale on the sidelines.
In doing so, Centeio, who injured his shoulder on the first ride – “It shook me for the first two or three rides, but then I said, ‘Fuck it,'” he said – said he cried about three times in front of his press conference, once when he ran for his lockermate Greene after his touchdown in the second half.
He said it’s taken a lot to get to this moment at the helm of JMU and to defeat App State at Boone for the first time since 1991. The two-time transfer said he knew nothing about the history of the JMU app until he observed a Video JMU released yesterday.
The rendition of 2022 still felt sweet. Really, for Centeio, every football game does.
“It’s not a matter of life or death – it’s a game,” Centeio said. “It’s an important game, but it’s not a matter of life or death.”