Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
Just over one year ago, the Duquesne football team welcomed NEC foe Central Connecticut State to Rooney Field. Both teams were 4-0 in-conference at the time of the meeting, and since each of the remaining teams in the seven-team league already had at least two losses, the Nov. 11, 2017, date between the Blue Devils and Dukes effectively served as the 2017 NEC Championship. Furthermore, an automatic bid in the FCS playoffs was at stake.
It was Senior Day at Rooney Field for the Dukes, too, since their only remaining regular season game was set for Nov. 18 against Bryant in Smithfield, Rhode Island.
For the aforementioned reasons, Duquesne’s game against the Blue Devils was of the utmost importance. With a win, its seniors would leave the Bluff with a victory, NEC Championship and FCS playoff bid in hand. Without one, though, its season would likely conclude in less-than-spectacular fashion at Bryant on Nov. 18.
Ultimately, however, Duquesne fell to the Blue Devils — and in none other than downright heartbreaking fashion. Up 27-14 with under seven minutes left to play, Duquesne went on to surrender 14 unanswered points to Central Connecticut State, forfeiting the game’s lead in the process.
In the final minute of the contest, Duquesne managed to move the ball deep into Blue Devil territory, eventually setting up Dukes kicker John Domit with a 19-yard field goal try with mere seconds remaining.
But the attempt sailed left, and CCSU celebrated as a devastated Duquesne team looked on.
Not only had DU blown a late lead in its impromptu title game — it had done it on its own turf.
Fast forward 364 days to Nov. 10, 2018, and the Dukes found themselves in a familiar position. It was Senior Day again on the Bluff, with snow flurries complicating the forecast this time around. The opponent was Sacred Heart, the lone undefeated team remaining in the Northeast Conference. At 3-1 in the NEC and 6-3 overall, Duquesne controlled its own destiny entering the matchup: if the Dukes topped the Pioneers, it would assure themselves a crack at another NEC crown on Nov. 18 — this time, at Central Connecticut State.
With a Duquesne loss, Sacred Heart would have clinched the NEC outright, as well as the conference’s singular automatic bid for the FCS playoffs. At Rooney Field, too, nonetheless.
A.J. Hines & Co. were having none of that.
On an afternoon where neither offense could find any sort of consistency through its passing game, the junior tailback tallied a monstrous 213 rushing yards and one touchdown on 31 carries en route to his fourth-consecutive NEC Player of the Week nod.
The game was Hines’ fourth straight contest with over 200 total yards from scrimmage.
Head Coach Jerry Schmitt, in his 14th season leading the Duquesne program, insisted after Saturday’s game that Hines isn’t “on a roll,” per se, but is simply just playing his game, 100 percent healthy.
“He’s just an extremely talented player that’s playing healthy. I can’t even say he’s getting on a roll — it’s the way he plays. He’s a really good football player, and his offensive line is helping him a ton,” Schmitt said of Hines.
The coach then expounded on the importance of this year’s group of seniors, expressing gratitude and appreciation for not only their efforts, but also for their collective character and maturity.
“They mean a ton to our program, and they’re all good students, and even more so, they’re great people,” Schmitt remarked. “Great young men. So proud of them, and happy for them, and I just want to extend this and be able to coach them as long as I can here.”
Only a junior, Hines expressed similar sentiments.
“It’s a big win. Coming in, we knew what they were gonna do, and we’re just glad that we gave it our all and got this win on Senior Day,” Hines said. “Got it for the seniors, and we got a chance to do big things in these next few weeks.”
If Hines’ recent performances are any indication, he means business. And that’s not to mention the added motivation from last season’s disappointing ending — something Hines admits isn’t lost on him.
“Yes sir, of course,” Hines said in response to whether or not he had revenge for CCSU on his mind. “We know what happened last year. I think we still got that bad taste in our mouth, and we just want to come out, have a great week of practice and go up there and show what we got.”
Schmitt sounds equally excited for the opportunity to right last year’s wrongs.
“It’s been a very challenging season all across the board, in many different ways,” Schmitt said. “For our guys to fight back, improve each week, and mentally, just get into a routine of playing football, and then have successes like this, it’s huge for us to get to this point and have this opportunity next week.”