Duquesne football dominates Merrimack, earns first NEC win

Courtesy of Duquesne Athletics via Merrimack Athletics | Leandro DeBrito and Jon Muehlbauer combine to tackle Merrimack’s Anthony Norcia during Duquesne’s 37-14 victory on Saturday. DeBrito secured his second interception of the season in the NEC victory.

Spencer Thomas | Staff Writer

Oct. 7, 2021

It wasn’t until the fifth week of the 2021 season, but Duquesne finally opened FCS play, and did so with a 37-14 road victory over Merrimack on Saturday afternoon.

The win was the Dukes’ third in a row and kicks off a Northeast Conference journey that they hope will end with them capturing their first conference title since 2018.

Head Coach Jerry Schmitt was impressed with the win.

“I’m almost speechless on how proud I am of them because it was a true team win,” Schmitt said. “There were a lot of guys that had to step up. Guys just stepped up and played great.”

Duquesne struggled out of the gate. The Dukes’ offense sputtered on their first two possessions, with both drives ending after three plays. They trailed, 7-0, at the end of the first quarter.

When the second quarter opened, Duquesne got their mojo back. 

Wide receiver Cyrus Holder caught a touchdown pass  — his first of the season — from quarterback Darius Perrantes on the first play of the quarter.

Shortly after, defensive back Jeremiah Josephs picked off Warriors quarterback Westin Elliott and returned the ball to the Merrimack 5-yard line. On the next play, running back Billy Lucas found his way into the end zone, giving the Dukes a 14-7 lead.

Merrimack’s next possession was just as brief, as Leandro DeBrito snagged his second interception of the season.

On the Warriors’ following possession, Josephs recorded his second interception of the quarter and ran it back 62 yards. This gave Duquesne prime position to kick a field goal and extend its lead to 17-7.

A series of short passes by Elliott resulted in a Merrimack touchdown. Duquesne went into the locker room with a 17-14 advantage.

From that point on, it was all Dukes. 

The defense continued to dominate in the third quarter, forcing several punts and causing a Merrimack turnover on downs inside the Duquesne 15-yard line.

An injury-depleted secondary stepped up against a pass-heavy Merrimack offense that threw the ball 49 times throughout the course of the game.

On Merrimack’s opening drive of the fourth quarter, linebacker Jahan Worth grabbed the Dukes’ fourth interception of the day. This marked the first time a Duquesne defense had secured four interceptions in a game since Nov. 4, 2006.

On the offensive side, Perrantes also remained hot in the second half. He threw his second and third touchdowns of the afternoon to Wykeen Gill and Garrett Owens, respectively. 

With just over five minutes remaining in the game, Owens caught his second touchdown of the day from Perrantes, all but securing the victory for Duquesne.

“They played a lot of Cover One, a lot of Man defense,” Owens said. “Just taking advantage of those man matchups was definitely part of the game plan, and that’s what we did.”

When all was said and done, Perrantes threw for a career-high four touchdowns, becoming the first Duquesne quarterback since 2017 to accomplish such a feat.

Since becoming the Dukes’ starter following Joe Mischler’s injury midway through the opening-week loss at TCU, Perrantes has guided Duquesne to three consecutive victories.

Owens showed himself as a true dual threat out of the backfield, running the ball for 51 yards. He also led the team in receiving with 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“We’ve been waiting to utilize his receiving skills, just hadn’t had a lot of opportunities,” Schmitt said. “He’s caught a few balls, but we had the opportunity today to get the ball down the field to him. He made great plays.”

With Owens being heavily utilized in the passing game, fellow running back Billy Lucas got the bulk of the carries, running 20 times for 88 yards and a touchdown.

“It was a great week of preparation. We all came together during the week and did all the things we needed to do to prepare well,” Owens said. “Everybody on all three sides of the ball all came out and played a hell of a game. We played for each other, fought for each other.”

The all-around effort by the Dukes was appreciated by their head coach.

“I’m extremely proud of our football team and the way they did it across the board, the entire team,” Schmitt said. 

Duquesne will try to carry its momentum into a home NEC clash with Bryant this Saturday afternoon at Rooney Field.

In last spring’s abbreviated campaign, the Dukes snapped their three-game losing streak against the Bulldogs with a 20-10 victory on Mar. 28 at Beirne Stadium in Smithfield, R.I.