By David Borne | Staff Writer
The Duquesne Dukes took their first step toward defending their NEC title as they defeated the Robert Morris Colonials at Rooney Field on Saturday night, in their first NEC Conference contest of the 2016 season.
The crosstown, conference rivals played to a 17-17 tie heading into the locker room, but the Dukes outscored the Colonials 14-7 in the second half to escape with a 31-24 win — the 100th career victory for Duquesne head coach Jerry Schmitt.
“It was a tough one,” Schmitt said, “But I feel great about winning the first conference game and I feel great for our players.”
Robert Morris opened up the scoring with 6:09 remaining in the first quarter, as freshman wideout Tim Vecchio scored his first career touchdown on a 17 yard pass from quarterback Joe Carroll.
The Dukes fired back quickly as redshirt senior quarterback Dillon Buechel threw an 11 yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior wideout Chavas Rawlins to knot the score at 7-7. The rest of game followed a similar back and forth pattern.
Robert Morris reclaimed the lead with a 23-yard field goal. The Dukes then retaliated with a field goal of their own, as Austin Crimmins knotted the score at 10 with 8:32 remaining in the first half.
A 47-yard field goal attempt from redshirt senior kicker Austin Crimmins was blocked by Robert Morris and returned 63 yards to the endzone by redshirt senior Macelis Branch, which gave the Colonials a 17-10 lead after the special teams miscue by Duquesne.
Buechel wasn’t content to go into the break down a touchdown, however as he led his teammates on an eight play, 77-yard touchdown drive in just 44 seconds. Buechel connected with freshman wideout Kellon Taylor for a six yard touchdown to once again tie the score with 10 seconds remaining in the first half. It was Taylor’s first collegiate touchdown, and it was a play he won’t soon forget.
“We’ve been running that play all week. Basically it’s just for me to use my height advantage and go up top,” Taylor said. “Tonight we just had to keep fighting, we knew we would come out with a win. We started off slow but Coach Schmitt gave a great halftime speech and we just pulled through.”
Buechel finished the night completing 22 of 33 passes for 258 yards passing and three touchdowns earning him a 162.3 passer rating.
A touchdown for each side in the third quarter left the score at 24-24 heading into the final quarter. That’s when sophomore running back P.J. Fulmore rushed nine yards up the middle for a touchdown. After a successful Crimmins PAT attempt, the Dukes took their first lead of the evening with 7:54 remaining in the final quarter.
The touchdown proved to be the game-winner for Duquesne, as the Dukes were able to shut down Robert Morris for the remainder of the night. Fulmore has missed significant time this season due to injury, but showed no signs of weakness against the Colonials.
“I feel good. I’ve got fresh legs, and my body feels good,” Fulmore said. “The line was opening holes, A.J.[Hines] was running good, so it was just opening up things for me too.”
Freshman running back A.J. Hines, who really stepped up his play in Fulmore’s absence, had another dominant outing against Robert Morris. Hines ended the night with 27 carries for 182 yards rushing.
While Hines is enjoying the individual success he’s having, he is just focussed on helping out his team and winning football games no matter who is taking the snaps at the running back position.
“Nothing really changes. I just do what I do, play my game, and get the W. That’s all I’m really worried about,” Hines said.
Schmitt now has two healthy running backs to take some pressure off of his standout quarterback. He had his team prepared for a hard-fought battle with the Colonials and that’s what played out under the lights at Rooney Field.
“You can throw records in the garbage can when you play Robert Morris,” Schmitt said. “It’s a battle, it’s a rival, both teams play hard at each other so you can throw all that stuff out. You saw it tonight with some of the crazy things that happened.”
The win improved Duquesne’s record to 4-2 on the season and 1-0 in conference play. The Dukes travel to Saint Francis University next weekend in a game that could prove once again to be the matchup that decides the NEC Conference. The conference’s top two teams from a season ago will square off at 7 p.m. in Loretto, Pa on Friday night.