After the Tigers' Grant Enders led a 92-yard touchdown drive, JMU's Justin Thorpe got the last word, directing his own eight-play, 79-yard drive that finished with his 9-yard scramble into the end zone with 1:24 remaining. The touchdown put the Dukes ahead 13-10, the eventual final score.
"It was the nightmare I had worried about from the beginning of the game," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said of JMU's final scoring drive. "We did a tremendous job defensively of containing (Thorpe) for three quarters and 14-so minutes. You miss, he'll make you pay. That's why he is who he is."
Towson had one more chance to tie or take the lead, but JMU safety Dean Marlowe intercepted his second pass of the day, allowing the Dukes to run out the final 44 seconds.
No. 5 JMU improved to 4-1 overall, 2-0 in the CAA, as 14-year coach Mickey Matthews earned his 100th career victory. No. 12 Towson, which won the league title last year and was the preseason pick to repeat, dropped to 2-3, 1-1.
The CAA's two stingiest defenses lived up to their billing.
Entering Saturday, Towson allowed a league-low 288.5 yards a game, while JMU allowed 289.2. Madison was tops in points allowed per game (14.8).
"I thought Towson played really well," Matthews said. "Didn't surprise me. If you had watched the tape you would have thought that — I thought they were really good going into the game. I thought yards and points would be hard to come by and they were."
Down three points at James Madison and facing a fourth-and-1 situation on their own 18-yard line with 8:52 remaining, the Tigers called a quarterback sneak and picked up the first down.
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 after the game he was still upset about his team's three turnovers.
"They're good but it just came down to mistakes — mistakes that I made," Enders said. "When you turn the ball over three times, you can't expect to beat any defense like that. They did a good job of being in the right places, but it came down to us making mistakes."
Enders finished 20 for 32 for 147 yards. Sophomore tailback Terrance West picked up 112 yards on 28 carries, and Enders added 37 yards on the ground, including his 7-yard run to give Towson its only lead of the day in the fourth quarter.
The Dukes, of course, came back with a TD drive of their own on a day when two Cameron Starke field goals had been the only offense until the final minutes.
"They have a heck of a defense, that's all I can say," Thorpe said. "We just made a play at the end of the game. It was a low-scoring affair, and we got the 'W.' "
JMU remains the only CAA team that Towson has never beaten since joining the league in 2004. JMU extended its all-time series lead to 18-5-1.
Junior tailback Dae'Quan Scott, who missed JMU's last two games with a high ankle sprain, picked up 85 yards on 22 carries.