Defense helps Red & Blue to one game over .500

Julian Routh | News Editor

Taylor Miles | The Duquesne Duke Quarterback Dillon Buechel looks for an open receiver in last weekend’s 34-17 victory over Wagner. The Dukes are now 3-2 on the season.
Taylor Miles | The Duquesne Duke
Quarterback Dillon Buechel looks for an open receiver in last weekend’s 34-17 victory over Wagner. The Dukes are now 3-2 on the season.

The celebration in the Keller Fieldhouse could be heard from 50 yards away. Music blared. Players chanted in unison. The doors to the Dukes’ locker room were near ready to burst open.

“You don’t want to go in there,” senior running back Jason Douglas said, pointing to the doors with a smile.

The Dukes’ 34-17 win over defending NEC champs Wagner on Saturday felt like a win for the ages. The stage was huge – the Red and Blue opened conference play on homecoming day against the same team that broke their hearts last year on a Dominique Williams touchdown in the game’s final minutes.

But the Red and Blue never faltered, making sure this year’s game, 329 days later, would end differently.

“It’s a huge win to open up the conference play, to do it on homecoming day in front of our home crowd and do it in that fashion in the fourth quarter, it’s great for the kids,” coach Jerry Schmitt said. “I’m happy for them.”

A quick glance at the final score would indicate an old-fashioned beatdown, and it was just that. Total domination.

But the domination was held to a single quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Dukes were clicking on all cylinders, racking up 24 points and forcing Wagner’s offense into a stand-still. It was reminiscent of last week’s first quarter against West Liberty, when Duquesne scored 20 points in the final 4:09.

This time, it was all thanks to lockdown defense and outstanding special teams.

The defense is really starting to come together, and the days of allowing 59 points to Youngstown State and 24 points to Albany appear to be coming to an end. At the beginning of the season, Dorian Bell and Rich Piekarski were the only ones who stepped up in big-time situations. Now the defense as a unit is shutting down normally-efficient offenses with contributions from everyone.

Chris Johnson and Sam Martello refused to let anyone by, leading the team with eight tackles each. and Johnson’s interception late in the fourth quarter killed any momentum the Seahawks had left.

On the special teams front, Devin Rahming was due for a huge punt return performance. He was given six chances to take one to the house, and he did in spectacular fashion.

The game’s other three quarters were a different story. For the first 45 minutes, the Dukes turned to kicker Austin Crimmins to keep them in the game, and he did just that. Forced to start in their own 20-yard-line most drives, Wagner had trouble moving the ball and gaining momentum.

The Dukes showed discipline in avoiding yellow flags. Wagner was hit with five penalties resulting in 59 yards, and two of those gave the Dukes key first downs.

To stay away from costly penalties, Schmitt told his team to “play our game.”

“Walk away, because they’ll make the mistakes and get the penalties,” Schmitt said.

“They’ve always been a chippy team – a little rivalry. We go after each other, play good games and I think it paid off for us, because they got some tough penalties.”

Given the circumstances, sweet revenge has never felt better. It may be another 329 days before the two teams meet again, but until then, the Dukes can forget the image of Dominique Williams and build off the victory over the defending champs.

But they shouldn’t cherish it for too long, coach says.

“We’re going to enjoy this until tomorrow, watch this film and then get right on to Robert Morris.”