MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — James Madison coach Curt Cignetti has a lot of history in Morgantown.
He nearly made more on Saturday in his JMU debut. His Dukes had a chance to hand host West Virginia its first loss to an FCS opponent.
But the Mountaineers outlasted JMU for a 20-13 win in front of 61,891 at Milan Puskar Stadium.
West Virginia (1-0) utilized the passing game to march ahead in the second half, and a drive that began with an interception helped the team pull away.
“I told our kids after the game that losing will never be accepted at James Madison,” Cignetti said. “There were some great individual efforts out there, and I’m sure they have a lot to be proud of and I wish I could’ve done more from them to help them be successful.
“I think we have a chance to be a good football team.”
West Virginia is 20-0 against FCS teams, while JMU is 6-22 against FBS opponents.
Despite the loss, JMU (0-1) showed qualities that should bode well as it moves into its FCS schedule. The Dukes held their own physically, opening room for runners and limiting the Mountaineers to 34 yards on the ground.
Those are fundamentals Cignetti preaches, senior defensive end Ron’Dell Carter said.
“The last thing we’re going to do is lose up front,” Carter said.
The Dukes deployed a cadre of runners to rack up 162 rushing yards — redshirt freshman Solomon Vanhorse, who arrived at JMU as a walk-on; juniors Percy Agyei-Obese and Jawon Hamilton; and true freshman Austin Douglas.
“I was glad to see everybody get involved,” Cignetti said.
JMU senior quarterback Ben DiNucci flashed his own mobility with multiple valuable gains on keepers. He ran 14 times for 36 yards.
The JMU defense established a presence early. The unit yielded no points after two first-quarter turnovers — one a muffed punt by junior D’Angelo Amos and the other a giveaway by Agyei-Obese on a run.
But West Virginia had 187 second-half passing yards. The team scored on a 28-yard pass from junior quarterback Austin Kendall to senior wide receiver George Campbell on its first possession out of the break. That gave the Mountaineers their first lead, 10-7.
In the fourth quarter, DiNucci scrambled and his pass was intercepted by senior cornerback Keith Washington Jr., to the JMU 30. Kendall helped the Mountaineers cash in — he hit junior wide receiver Tevin Bush for a 22-yard touchdown, and they pulled out to a 20-10 lead with 8:43 to play.
JMU junior kicker Ethan Ratke added a fourth-quarter field goal for the Dukes, but they managed no more.
Saturday marked a return to West Virginia for Cignetti, who was hired by JMU from Elon in December. Cignetti grew up in Morgantown from third grade on, because his father, college football hall of famer Frank Cignetti, was an offensive coordinator (1970-75), then head coach (1976-79) at West Virginia.
Cignetti then attended West Virginia, and was a quarterback. He’s a 1982 alumnus.
Despite the loss, Cignetti said he admired how his players fought.
“We definitely played hard, gave it everything we had,” Cignetti said. “There were moments during that game when it looked like we’d be successful. At the end of the day, we weren’t.
“So, we’ll move on to the next.”