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January 11, 2020

Curt Cignetti

Ron'Dell Carter

Riley Stapleton

Ben DiNucci

Frisco, Texas

(James Madison interviews)

North Dakota State - 28, James Madison - 20

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by James Madison University.

COACH CIGNETTI: Well, obviously didn't get the result we wanted today. I give North Dakota State a lot of credit. It's a great football team -- the reason they won so many. They played better than we did. Deserved to win. Quarterback's a tremendous player.

But a lot of our issues in the first half were self-inflicted. We didn't play particularly well on defense -- a lot of missed assignments, missed tackles, penalties. The field goal, fake field goal for a touchdown, missed field goal.

Second half, you let the guy, third and 22, run 50 yards for a touchdown. That's tough.

But to our guys' credit, I thought we played well, really well in the second half. I thought we really settled down as a team, particularly on defense, a big fourth down stop on defense gave us a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime. And we got down there and had a chance to do that and didn't do it.

Very proud of our seniors and disappointed that we couldn't send them away on a happier note. It was a tremendous group of guys and I'll really miss them being around.

I want to congratulate our team on their effort throughout the season, their commitment, their investment in the season. And I told them you can't lose sight of all the things you did accomplish throughout this season and your investment during the season.

And I also would like to thank our coaching staff for their effort this season throughout the season.

And it's the last time this team will be together as we know it. And I hate that we have to walk out like we are. But that is life. You don't always get what you want. But I give North Dakota State a lot of credit.


Q. Ron'Dell, Ben, Riley, what was said at halftime after North Dakota State had just pulled off that fake field goal for you guys to kind of settle in get back in the game?
RON'DELL CARTER: Just play JMU football. First half we didn't play JMU football at all -- costly penalties, let them run the ball, (indiscernible) us a little bit. We're not used to doing that.

And the message was just play JMU football because we weren't. And came out in the second half and finally did it. But ran out of time.

BEN DINUCCI: Had to be us.

RILEY STAPLETON: Not much more to be said.

Q. Ron'Dell, what was it like trying to stop Trey Lance? Obviously had an explosive first half. What was it like to try to stop him, and what was the adjustment in the first half to stop him in the second half?
RON'DELL CARTER: For him to be that young, I've said it before, he's very dynamic. For him to be that young, that calm in the pocket is pretty crazy. He's got three years left of his eligibility. That's pretty impressive.

But he's hard to tackle sometimes. He can be. But we had some opportunities to get him down but we just didn't. It was a QB draw he had. There was a time, our D got back there to sack him, but he scrambled out of the pocket and he got there. It was pretty tough trying to tackle him. But we should have been better tackling.

Q. Ron'Dell, what did you see on the fake reverse they had there, where Phoenix Sproles running along the sidelines for the touchdown? What did you see in that particular play?
RON'DELL CARTER: We just gotta be more disciplined with our eyes. We weren't. He reversed the ball -- it was a fake reverse. We anticipated him probably coming backside, but he kept the ball going, and then his left outside open, you know what I mean?

Q. Ben and Riley, just talk about the team coming back in the second half. Obviously you guys started fast and then maybe didn't execute offensively how you wanted through the middle of the game. But towards the end of the game got back into it. What were you saying to each other what was the mentality on the sideline to get back into the game?
BEN DINUCCI: Just had to play our ball. Really the same thing that was said at halftime. And we felt that they hadn't really stopped us much in that first half and really the second half, too, honestly.

But we just felt like if we did what we were capable of doing and not lose our cool, we'd have a pretty good shot at that thing. As you could see, it went down to the last play. Just ran out of time there.

RILEY STAPLETON: We had to quit shooting ourselves in the foot and making mistakes. And we knew we were going to have a chance in the second half because it was a two-score game at halftime. But we just didn't quite get it done in the second half.

Q. Ben, what was working with you and Riley today down the field as you guys were picking up first downs play after play?
BEN DINUCCI: T is a beast. I don't have anything more to say. He's my roommate, my brother, I love the dude. Been a heck of a two years playing with him. Unfortunate had to send the seniors out like this, being our last game.

But wouldn't really trade any of these past two years for the world. But at any time I see a guy pressed on Riley I'll start licking my lips. That's basically what I did today.

Q. Riley, the same thing, what was working with you and Ben today?
RILEY STAPLETON: Just fortunate enough to have my number called a few times. Ben put the ball where I could get it. There were a few plays I wish I could have had back that I didn't make today; those are the ones that are hitting me.

And Ben's a heck of a quarterback. And the coaching staff did a great job calling out play calls today. And we just didn't execute enough. But Ben is a heck of a quarterback and it was an honor to play with him.

Q. Ben, can you kind of walk us through that last play for you guys on offense, what you saw, what obviously ended up being the last mistake?
BEN DINUCCI: Sure, roll out to the left, Brandon pulls the first option, looked open. I didn't see number six. Made a heck of a play.

Q. Your early thoughts, how would you sum up your careers? You guys were the winningest class in JMU history. Just reflections, the past four, five years?
RILEY STAPLETON: Tough to put it in one or two sentences. It's been an amazing experience. I wouldn't change it for the world. JMU holds a special place in my heart. It's tough to look back right now because this hurts so much. But wouldn't trade it for the world and I'm so blessed to be here.

BEN DINUCCI: I haven't been here for four years but I've had the pleasure of being here the last two and it sure feels like I've been here four or five. These guys have been nothing but brothers to me in the locker room, embraced me from the time I got here.

This is the reason I came here, to play in a game like this. There's got to be a winner every game and a loser every game, and we just happened to come up on the short end of the stick today.

RON'DELL CARTER: I transferred in here three years ago, and it was for this reason, to compete for a National Championship. I kind of wish I would have came here as a true freshman. I wish I wouldn't (indiscernible) went. Because this place is so special.

Those guys in that locker room, I wouldn't trade them for the world. Win, lose or draw, I'm with those guys to the end. Half of those guys, almost all those guys are going to probably be in my wedding. That's how close we are. We're a tight-knit group. That's just the truth.

JMU, thank you, my coaches, thank you, my teammates, thank you. I appreciate everything you all have done for me. You've made a better player, a better person and a better man and a better leader. And I appreciate you all.

Q. Really two of the best teams in the FCS met up on the field. Can you talk about what this game was like to play in it, and really the matchup between the top two teams and kind of feel like you guys proved that these were the top two teams in the country?
RON'DELL CARTER: It's what you play for, you play for this moment -- the number one and number two team. Obviously we didn't come out on the winning end, but I think they'll probably tell you that we were their toughest opponent.

We're resilient. We showed that all year. And this was a fun game. We (indiscernible) for this kind of game. As a football player and as a competitor, you live for the number one and number two team. That's what you live for. And it was a good game until the end of it.

BEN DINUCCI: Honestly, I don't really think they won that game. Honestly I think we lost it. Too many penalties. I'm not going to comment on the refs. Not my job to do that.

But trick plays, they'll probably tell you -- we outphysicaled them. I don't want to even talk about it. But they're a heck of a team. We've got a heck of a team. It was a fun game.

RILEY STAPLETON: Like Ron'Dell said, as a competitor and an athlete, this is everything you want for is to play against the best on the biggest stage. And to be able to do that is an experience I'll never forget. And, again, I'm just thankful and blessed to have that opportunity. Wish it would have turned out differently.

Q. Do you feel like you're leaving the program in a better place than when you came in? If you look at the players who have stepped up today, the young guys that follow behind you, do you feel you've left it in a good place?
RON'DELL CARTER: We definitely left it in a good place. It was nothing to necessarily -- when you say, leaving it in a better place, this place was good when I came in. I had to assimilate when I came here, not the other way around.

I've been fortunate enough to see great leaders when I got here (inaudible) and learn from those guys. And now us three, all of us, we've learned from them. Now we're able to preach all that stuff to the young guys and hopefully they'll carry on the legacy, and hopefully we'll get this done in the next few years, if not next year.

BEN DINUCCI: Sure hope I left a legacy or an impact on the team. There's been a lot of great quarterbacks before me. I'm not anywhere close to those guys. But just to be able to a part of this thing and I get to play in a game like this and have this type of experience -- I had so many friends, family people from my hometown here. Just to be able to have them see me play, I've been so fortunate my parents have been able to make every single game. Family has been able to make every single game.

And to be able to pass that torch, let the underclassmen know that there's a lot that goes into this, don't take it for granted, it's one of those lifetime experience you're not going to be able to -- get back when it's over, but sure hope that the senior class left an impact on the program.

RILEY STAPLETON: As a young guy that's one thing I always strive to be is a good leader and someone on the team that leaves it better than when I first got here. And kind of like what Ron'Dell said, there was older guys, too, when we were younger that did a great job and set the foundation. And we try to do our absolute best to leave that legacy and help the younger guys have more success than we did.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.

Q. On the fake field goal, your perspective, what happened on that play?
COACH CIGNETTI: We just had guys not do their job on the offensive left side, our right. We have a morning coach's meeting before every game. Today was at 6:30. We talked about the fake field goal. You're worried about the muddle huddle so much. And they had faked one.

We were in the protection -- we were a block that was very sound, not high risk, and they executed and we didn't. Big play.

Q. What happened after Lance had the long run on the third and 23 whatever it was? Could have been a back breaker but you kind of rallied from that after that.
COACH CIGNETTI: We did. And talk about being resilient, like a rubber ball in this game, that we would have to respond to adversity. And at that point we were down two scores but plenty of time really to get back into the game.

And so I thought there were moments in that game we showed our true character and stepped up and gave ourselves a chance, and we were patient and got the run game going and made some plays in the pass game. Defense had a big stop on fourth and two.

So I think you saw flashes of JMU football, but unfortunately there were too many big, negative plays that proved to be too much to overcome.

Q. How different was game planning for North Dakota State compared to teams you've played in the past with such a mobile quarterback?
COACH CIGNETTI: Well, I think their offense is very difficult because of all the different personnel groupings, and we were having problems getting the personnel they were in because they're running the same position guys on and off the field. And then the multiplicity and formations and their offensive design.

And when you put a guy like Trey Lance in there as quarterback, he's just a cut above. He ran for 181 yards. We sacked him once, so he had 15 lost yards. And the guy can run it, throw it. He's big. You saw him run through tackles. You saw him run through tackles from linebackers in the first half. And so they're a handful.

Q. Can you give us the details about the last play? Was that an exact play you ran before; did you change it up a little bit?
COACH CIGNETTI: It was a different play. May have looked the same. We had a couple of passes inside their 5 that we've repped quite a bit going into this game. Riley caught the two touchdowns, two different plays. And we showed the sprint-out. I can't remember if it was out in the field we did that. But the very last play, that was one of our two two-point plays. We had two two-point plays we practiced quite a bit. That was one. We had time for two plays. Eight seconds. You had time for that play, if he wasn't open, could throw it away, and run a final play of the game.

Q. You had Gage Moloney go in for a few plays to run what I assume was a trick play. What allowed you to have confidence to pull that off, call that play?
COACH CIGNETTI: We practiced for the past three weeks sort of a, lack of a better term, wildcat package with two quarterbacks on the field.

We had more runs out of that package. We could run a power, a counter. Sometimes Ben would be a quarterback. Sometimes Gage would be a quarterback. Threw them off balance a bit, run the ball, get some runs. Palmer had some nice runs.

The trick play obviously didn't work. We'll put that one away for a long time. The last two times that one hadn't worked, but we overcame it. And so Gage is a gamer, and he went in there, did a nice job and -- just like Cole. But we went with Gage because he's a little more of a runner, downhill runner, 225 pounds.

Q. You touched on Latrele Palmer already but can you talk about the impact he's had especially at the National Championship game as a true freshman?
COACH CIGNETTI: I thought he went in there and gave us something in the first half -- 44 yards on eight carries and he was breaking tackles and running hard. And, so, he's got a lot of talent and keeping him on the field and injury-free has been the biggest challenge for us at this point, but he's got a really bright future.

Q. I know it's obviously, the loss just happened, but as you look forward how do you feel about the shape of your program and your team moving forward? Obviously lose a lot of great seniors, but how do you feel about the roster coming back and the way the program is moving forward after putting the season together that you did?
COACH CIGNETTI: We have a really strong junior class here too. And in recruiting we have a strong brand -- we're able to attract quality student-athletes. And if there's immediate needs we have pretty good success with transfers.

So we'll have a good team coming back. It is a little early, especially coming off this loss. But you always start at ground zero with every team. And we'll give these guys a few weeks off. It's been a long season, 16 games. Let them get away from it a little bit and then get back at it and finish up recruiting.

But I sure will miss seeing these seniors around. They did a great job. I feel so bad for them.

Q. These two teams don't play each other all that often, but when you do it's on some really big stages. And a lot of people have talked about these two teams have uncommon depth, uncommon talent. There seems to be some mirror images in each other. Is this a budding rivalry or how would you describe what goes on when you and NDSU gets together?
COACH CIGNETTI: They've been titanic, monumental-type games. You're going out there and beating them (indiscernible) I think it's their last loss, only playoff loss, maybe, what was that, '16, '17 National Championship. And here we are '19 National Championship.

And they obviously have a great tradition, have kept it going a long time, have tremendous resources. And we feel like we're in the same position. And we've got tremendous support from our administration, great fan support, great -- top fans in the country, really nice facilities.

We're in good recruiting location. There's great culture. Our guys love to compete and expect to win. So you saw the two best teams in the country square off today. And today they were the better team.

Q. How crucial was it, the senior class, to help everything to come together the way it did in year one for you this year?
COACH CIGNETTI: Well, strong seniors and obviously you're not going to get much done without great senior leadership. But I think these guys were hungry as a team coming off of last season. And I've been doing this a while. They understood why we did what we did and kind of all facets of the program.

And we just really had a great culture and a great karma. And these guys really never had a bad day, to be honest with you. They didn't. They practiced hard every single day. They played well. Really stayed focused on what they had to stay focused on.

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