JMU football faces familiar foe North Dakota State in FCS semis Friday night on ESPN2

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James Madison quarterback Cole Johnson (12) looks for an open receiver under pressure from the North Dakota defense during the first half of a quarterfinal game in the NCAA FCS football playoffs in Harrisonburg, Va., Sunday, May 2, 2021. (Daniel Lin/Daily News-Record via AP)

FARGO, N.D. (WAVY) — If James Madison football wants to win one last national championship at the FCS level before heading to the Sun Belt Conference and FBS, they’ll have to take down a very familiar opponent on their way to the title game.

You could say it was meant to be.

The Dukes (12-1) will return the Fargodome on Friday night to play the Bison of North Dakota State (12-1), the winners of eight of the last 10 FCS national titles.

NDSU is 3-1 all-time against JMU, but the Dukes are the only opponent to ever beat the Bison at the Fargodome during the FCS playoffs. JMU won that semifinal game 27-17 in 2016 on their way to their second championship.

That 2016 season saw JMU evolve into the FCS power they are today, just behind NDSU in that elite echelon of FCS. The Dukes have since made the semifinals or better in 5 of the last 6 seasons, losing to NDSU in the title game in the 2017-18 season (17-13) and 2019-2020 (28-20).

JMU comes into this semifinal matchup with lots of momentum, with a high-powered passing offense led by 6th-year senior Cole Johnson from Virginia Beach, who’s thrown for 3,569 yards this season with 39 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and star receivers Antwane Wells Jr. and Kris Thornton, who each have 1,000-plus yards receiving on the year.

Linebacker and Norfolk native Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey is among the leaders of a JMU defense that’s held opponents to an average of 15 points per game and just 86 yards per game on the ground.

NDSU though has a beefy offensive line and a strong stable of running backs. The Bison ran for 290 yards in their quarterfinal game and are averaging 281.3 rushing yards per game — 6.3 yards rushing per play. Their regular quarterback is now sophomore Cam Miller, but they also sometimes bring in former Virginia Tech quarterback Quincy Patterson for run plays.

The Dukes easily handled No. 5 Montana in the quarterfinals at home last week, 28-6, while NDSU did the same against No. 8 East Tennessee State, 27-3.

Kickoff Friday is at 9:15 ET on ESPN2. The winner will face either Montana State or South Dakota State in the championship on Jan. 8.

There’s also a really cool feel-good storyline with Friday’s game. JMU, NDSU others FCS fans came together to raise more than $16,000 for North Dakota non-profits to fight food insecurity, the Washington Post’s Scott Allen reported.

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