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SALT LAKE CITY — Weber State’s best-ever season in the Football Championship Subdivision in school history came up agonizingly short on the road Saturday night.
Ben DiNucci threw for 255 yards with two touchdowns, and No. 2 James Madison held third-seeded Weber State scoreless for two of four quarters to pull away for a 30-14 win Saturday night in the FCS national semifinals in Harrisburg, Virginia.
“He made some throws. He made some plays with his legs,” James Madison coach Curt Cignetti said of DiNucci on ESPN. “We left some points out there, but if we can play better, we’ve got to play better.
“He’s a very accurate passer, and when the play breaks down, he has a knack to make a play with his legs.”
He got a little help from the Dukes’ defense, too.
James Madison (14-1) held the Wildcats to just 23 yards in the first quarter en route to a 17-0 lead early on DiNucci’s 1-yard TD plunge, his second score of the game. The Wildcats got on the board through Jake Constantine’s 2-yard TD toss to Kevin Smith, but the Dukes outgained the visitors 297 yards to 105 to take a 24-7 halftime lead.
Playing in their first national semifinal in school history, the Wildcats outscored the Dukes 7-6 in the second half. But the damage was already done.
"James Madison played a heck of a game. They’re a dang good team," Weber State coach Jay Hill said. "They’ve got a great defense, they can throw it and they can run it.
"We got off to such a slow start that the damage was done in the first quarter. You can’t go down 17-0 to these guys in this stadium. I don’t think that’s any recipe for success."
Constantine threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns while running back Josh Davis was limited to just 13 carries for 61 yards on the ground by a combination of injuries and a stingy JMU front seven. The Dukes held the Wildcats (11-4) to just 256 yards of offense, including 70 on the ground, while piling up 467 yards of their own en route to the national title game for the fourth time in school history.
Even so, the Wildcats clawed back from a 17-0 deficit to pull within 17-7 in the final minute of the first half. After a delay of game penalty and an incompletion with about four seconds left, Hill called timeout to set up a play on defense.
But on the next play, DiNucci hit Riley Stapleton with a 34-yard score on fourth-and-30 to give the Dukes a 24-7 lead as time expired in the first half.
"I made a really dumb call at the end of the half, and it took the life out of us a little bit," Hill said. "That's on me, not on any of the players; that was dumb. But you have to give credit to James Madison. They are a heck of a team."
The Dukes shut out the visitors in the third quarter, and by the time Constantine tossed another touchdown — this one for 22 yards to Ty MacPherson — the Wildcats trailed 30-14 with 2:54 remaining.
James Madison advances to play North Dakota State in the FCS national championship game. The top-ranked Bison (15-0) beat Montana State 42-14 in the earlier semifinal.
The championship game will kick off Saturday, Jan. 11, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, and will be televised live on ABC.