Johnson, JMU Dump East Carolina, 34-14

Cardon Johnson played through pain until he couldn't anymore last season.

But healthy again, he ran like no one would stop him on Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

With the ball cradled tightly to his chest, Johnson cut left, then right without any hesitation. And once he exploded past the first line of defenders, he sprinted away from the rest of them leaving any ideas of a busted Achilles behind.

Boosted by Johnson's career-best 265 rushing yards and two touchdowns, FCS No. 1 James Madison dominated for a 34-14 win over East Carolina for the program's sixth ever victory over an FBS foe.

"I just believed in my abilities when I came out here," Johnson said. "I had to get a feel for game speed in my first game back in a while, but once I got in a rhythm, I started feeling comfortable and like my usual self."

On JMU's first play from scrimmage in the second half, Johnson made like he was shot out of a cannon. HE took the handoff, made one move and fired ahead for an 85-yard touchdown jaunt to put the Dukes ahead 14-0.

"I don't know if I expected this," second-year JMU coach Mike Houston said of Johnson's performance. "But I couldn't be happier or more proud of him because as we were with him through the injury last year, the surgery and the rehab, you wondered if he was ever going to make it back because it's a tough injury."

During JMU's run to a national championship, Johnson played in nine games while rushing for 704 yards and eight touchdowns.

He tried to play through the injury, but when it became too much in mid-November, both Johnson and the Dukes' staff thought it would be best to sideline the runner for the rest of the year, missing the entire postseason.

While Johnson was setting the pace for JMU's offense Saturday, the defense shut out East Carolina through the first half and limited the Pirates to only 80 rushing yards in the game.

James Madison quarterback Bryan Schor (17) moves looks for running room during the Dukes' 34-14 win over East Carolina on Saturday in Greenville, N.C.

In the third quarter, JMU forced two turnovers including one on fourth-and-2 as ECU was driving trailing only 14-7 late in the period. ECU running back Darius Pinnix fumbled and Dukes senior safety Raven Greene recovered it.

The ensuing Madison drive resulted in a touchdown when quarterback Bryan Schor threw a red-zone touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Nick Carlton with six seconds left in the third to go ahead by two touchdowns.

"It was very disappointing," ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said of his team's loss. "For some of our first-time starters, their nerves were much bigger than we though."

Schor said Carlton did a good job of executing the route.

"We were running a lot of go routes," Schor said. "And I think the defense started to pick up on it. Then they went to a one-high shell and I knew I had a good matchup with Nick Carlton against a linebacker and I knew Nick was going to give me a shot to make the throw to him."

After ECU's first fourth-quarter drive stalled inside Dukes territory, JMU turned to Johnson to put the game away.

On his first final-quarter touch, he registered an 80-yard scoring carry to put an exclamation point on the game and his return.

"I think he showed the whole world he is back," Houston said. "I think he is more explosive now than he was at the beginning of the season last year."

Johnson's previous career-high for rushing yards was the 165 he had in the Dukes' 2015 win over Elon.

As a team, JMU rushed for 422 yards.

"It feels good," Johnson said. "Once I saw an open field, I just ran."

The win over East Carolina was JMU's second victory over an AAC school in last three seasons. JMU beat SMU 48-45 in Dallas in 2015.

Schor said the Dukes expect to have a chance to win any game they play.

"We've had success in the past and we felt like we were returning a core group of guys," Schor said. "I think with our team we expect to put in the work during the week and come out here and expect to win."

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