Dukes down Long Island, earn spot in conference title game

Courtesy of Duquesne Athletics | Duquesne wide receiver Cyrus Holder evades a Long Island University defender during the Dukes' 35-17 win March 21.

Brentaro Yamane | Staff Writer

March 25, 2021

Collegiate sports teams around the country have suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it be from athletes contracting the virus and/or having games postponed and canceled.

On Sunday, though, Duquesne wide receiver Cyrus Holder made Long Island University catch a case of a new type of virus: The ‘Cyrus Virus.’

Behind seven receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns, Holder helped lead the Dukes (3-0, 3-0) to a 35-17 Northeast Conference victory over Long Island (1-2, 1-2) at Arthur J. Rooney Athletic Field on Sunday afternoon. 

Despite Holder’s stellar individual performance — which helped Duquesne earn a spot in the NEC championship game — his primary focus was doing whatever he could to help his team win.

“It was a great team performance,” Holder said postgame. “I’m just proud of my guys.”

Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt has been impressed by Holder’s efforts during practice and wasn’t surprised by his performance in the victory.

“We watched him in practice for five to six weeks. We knew he could have a big game at some point in time,” Schmitt said. “He does a lot of really good things for us.”

Long Island kicker Justin Hertlein missed a 29-yard field goal on the team’s opening drive, but the Sharks responded on their second drive with quarterback Conor Regan’s 2-yard rushing touchdown. The score, which came on fourth-and-goal, gave Long Island a 7-0 lead near the end of the first quarter.

It initially appeared as if the Dukes were going to struggle against the Sharks’ defense, going three-and-out on their first two possessions. After Regan’s touchdown, however, Duquesne answered with a three-play scoring drive that ended with quarterback Joe Mischler’s 75-yard strike to Holder to tie the score at seven apiece.

With 9:14 left in the second quarter, Long Island defensive back Tariq Snead intercepted a Mischler pass. On the ensuing drive, the Sharks went for it on fourth-and-6 from Duquesne’s 31-yard line, failing to convert after a 2-yard rush by Regan.

Four plays after the Sharks turned it over on downs, Mischler connected with Holder for a 60-yard score, giving the Dukes a 14-7 lead. Near the end of the first half, Mischler extended the Duquesne lead to 14 when he threw a scoring pass to wide receiver Abdul Janneh. The pass — intended for fellow receiver Davie Henderson — was tipped up by Sharks’ linebacker Ricco Aaron Jr. and subsequently caught by Janneh for the score.

Jonathan DeBique — who rushed for 123 yards on 20 carries — gave Long Island a spark by rushing for 36 yards on the second half’s opening drive. Shortly after, Regan threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Derick Eugene in the right corner of the end zone to trim the deficit to 21-14.

With Long Island inching closer, Duquesne running back Garrett Owens helped to put the game out of reach, rushing for two second-half touchdowns. Owens added 104 rushing yards on 23 carries on the day.

The Sharks put up an efficient offensive performance, racking up 368 total yards and 24 first downs, slightly better than Duquesne’s 21 first downs.

However, 509 total yards and a 70% third-down conversion rate helped the Dukes earn the win. Mischler completed 21 of 27 passes on the afternoon, throwing for three touchdowns and a career-high 385 yards.

“In the end, you got to play 60 minutes of football, and I applaud them for doing that,” Schmitt said. “There were a lot of things that we weren’t doing great, but we turned around and made plays. It wasn’t a pretty one, but we got it done.”

Duquesne will look to complete a perfect regular season when they travel to Bryant University for a meeting with the Bulldogs on March 28. With a win over Bryant or a Sacred Heart victory over Wagner, the Dukes would earn the right to host the conference title game at Rooney Field on April 11.