HARRISONBURG, Va. -- The Colonial Athletic Association's two best defenses squared off at Bridgeforth Stadium on Saturday and both lived up to their billing.
James Madison's was just a bit better than Towson's.
A nine-yard scramble by quarterback Justin Thorpe allowed James Madison to prevail 13-10 in a tight matchup between two teams expected to vie for the CAA title.
After 56-plus minutes without a touchdown, Towson reached the end zone for a 10-6 lead, but the Dukes' offense responded with the game winner.
Towson had 1:24 on the clock to answer that score but the Dukes' defense did what it had for much of the afternoon and stopped the Tigers' attack. Free safety Dean Marlowe made his second interception of the day, allowing the Dukes to run out the clock for their second straight CAA win.
JMU, the No. 5 ranked FCS school, improved to 4-1 overall, 2-0 in the CAA, as 14th-year coach Mickey Matthews earned his 100th career victory. No. 12 Towson, which won the conference title last year and was the preseason pick to repeat, dropped to 2-3, 1-1.
Entering Saturday, Towson allowed a league-low 288.5 yards per game, while JMU allowed 289.2. Madison was tops in points allowed per game (14.8).
Down three points and facing a fourth-and-1 situation on their own 18-yard line with 8:52 remaining, the Tigers called for a quarterback sneak and picked up the first down.
Quarterback Grant Enders then continued to lead what had been a hapless Towson offense on a 14-play, 92-yard touchdown drive that lasted 7:24.
But Madison came back with a TD drive of its own on a day when two Cameron Starke field goals had been its only offense until the final minutes.
Starke drilled a career-long 49-yard field goal to give JMU the game's initial lead with 1:15 remaining in the first quarter and then made a 21-yarder with 3:52 remaining in the second quarter. Towson's D.J. Stoven made a 40-yard try 11 seconds before halftime for the only other points before the wild finish.
Madison managed merely 256 yards of offense -- its lowest total of the season -- but sent a sold out Family Weekend crowd home happy.
Notes: The CAA had five teams ranked in the FCS top 25 this week. This was the only CAA game this week pitting two ranked teams against each other. ... The game was televised on NBC Sports Network as part of the conference's new deal with the network. ... The NCAA granted JMU quarterback Justin Thorpe a sixth year of eligibility last week, making the Richmond, Va., native a redshirt junior for the rest of this season. ... JMU sophomore Marquis Woodyard was hit in the head while trying to catch a deep pass midway through the second quarter. He did not return to the game.