GREATEST MOMENTS | Winless at first, James Madison won first championship in 2004

James Madison's first national championship in football, the first for a Division I Virginia team, vanquished the memories of JMU's first football season.

In 1972, the Dukes not only lost every game but didn't score a point.

So JMU's 31-21 victory against Montana on Dec. 17, 2004, in the Division I-AA championship game "couldn't have been sweeter," as the school noted during its centennial celebration.

The sports moment judged the greatest in school history, which includes the 1994 national championship in field hockey, was the culmination of an improbable postseason run.

JMU finished 9-2 in the regular season and became the first team in NCAA history to win the championship after three consecutive playoff games on the road, including the first two by scores of 14-13 against Lehigh and No. 2 Furman.

They stunned No. 3 William & Mary, which had beaten the Dukes in the regular season, to reach the championship game. The Dukes jumped out to a 21-0 lead but fell behind before rallying for a 48-34 win.

Cornerback Clint Kent had a 70-yard interception against William & Mary and clinched JMU's victory against Montana with an interception late in the championship game.

"During the summer before the 2004 season, I knew we had a special group," Kent said in 2014. "We changed our defensive scheme and got a transfer quarterback in by the name of Justin Rascati. ... My thought entering the championship game was we have made it this far and we will not lose this game!"

Rascati, a sophomore who transferred from Louisville, and Maurice Fenner both ran for two touchdowns as the Dukes overcame deficits of 7-0 and 21-17. Fenner finished with 164 yards on 29 carries.

The Dukes responded with scoring drives of 72 and 80 yards, taking the lead for good at 24-21 on Fenner's 1-yard touchdown run with 3:25 remaining in the third quarter. Rascati scored on a 6-yard run with eight minutes left in the game.

"This is a dream come true to win a championship at any level," Rascati said after the game. "We worked hard and hard work pays off."

"The emotions were indescribable," Kent said, "when the offense ran the clock out to win the game. It felt like a dream come true because of all the blood, sweat and tears we put in as a team."

JMU finished 13-2, its only other loss coming against West Virginia.

The Dukes, who played football in the Atlantic 10 before joining JMU's other programs in the CAA in 2007, have reached the FCS playoffs six times since their championship season and 12 overall.

But the 2004 team will always have a title.

"It honestly felt like a dream come true," Rascati said in 2014. "To line up in 'victory' formation knowing you are going to win the national championship is one of the most memorable moments of my life."

• JMU Athletics Hall of Fame
• JMU greatest sports moments

Middle and on the cover: Clint Kent and his James Madison teammates celebrates a 31-21 victory against Montana in the 2004 Division I-AA national championship game. (Courtesy JMU Athletics)
Monday: High Point and Hofstra
Tuesday: Holy Cross and Houston
Wednesday: Houston Baptist and Illinois Chicago (UIC)
Thursday: Incarnate Word (UIW) and Jacksonville State
Friday: James Madison

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