Dukes drop heartbreaking NEC opener

Staff Photographer Ed Major | Duquesne quarterback Daniel Parr stands under center for the Dukes on Saturday versus Bryant. Heavy lightning and thunderstorms delayed the game early on, until the rains eventually subsided later on. The Dukes fell to Bryant, 21-20.

Adam Lindner | Sports Editor

Oct. 11, 2018

The word “homecoming” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the return of a group of people usually on a special occasion to a place formerly frequented or regarded as home,” and especially as “an annual celebration for alumni at a high school, college, or university — often used before another noun” — but that hardly describes the general aura of homecoming events, and what they can mean for so many.

Especially at American universities, homecoming weekends are usually punctuated by football games, and are surrounded by jovial feelings, reunited friends and nostalgia. Generally, homecoming weekends are an annual highlight for the typical American school.

Last season, the Dukes enjoyed a 24-7 win over NEC foe Saint Francis on a sunny afternoon to move to 6-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play.

This season, Duquesne returned from Hawaii to a bye week, giving itself a nice cushion of time to prepare for its NEC opener and homecoming game versus Bryant on Oct. 6.

Fast forward to Oct. 5 — one would expect for the Dukes to be raring to go, not having played since a Sept. 22 loss at Hawaii. Instead, the players were faced with an impossible decision: whether or not they even wanted to play the game.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 4, Duquesne junior running back Marquis “JB” Brown jumped from the 16th floor of Brottier Hall (located at DU) after campus police arrived in response to a reported disturbance, according to the university. Brown was taken to UPMC Mercy Hospital in critical condition, where he later died. The Pittsburgh Police Department is currently investigating Brown’s death, but foul play is not suspected.

In a statement provided by the Duquesne athletic department on Friday, Head Coach Jerry Schmitt said that the team met early Friday afternoon and “decided that the best way to honor JB’s memory is to play Saturday’s game as scheduled. We left the decision purely up to the team and made it clear that we would support them whether they chose to play or not. This has been a difficult day for everyone associated with our football program and the University as a whole.

“Above all, we continue to offer our thoughts and prayers to the Brown family.”

Triumphantly, the players ultimately decided to play Saturday — but not without the memory of their dear friend and teammate nearby in their minds.

One of Brown’s best friends, junior Dukes receiver Kellon Taylor, carried Brown’s white No. 40 jersey to midfield alongside freshman defensive lineman Kraig Hill for the game’s coin toss. Brown, Taylor and Hill each attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md.

Taylor went on to wear Brown’s navy No. 40 jersey throughout the game, an emotional sight in and of itself.

Staff Photographer Ed Major | During Saturday’s game, Duquesne running back Lucas D’Orazio remembered teammate Marquis “JB” Brown with a towel bearing his initials and jersey number. Brown tragically passed away on Oct. 4, only days before the Dukes’ 2018 Homecoming game.

The Dukes established momentum at the game’s outset, forcing a turnover on downs on Bryant’s very first drive of the afternoon. Quarterback Daniel Parr found tight end Stew Allen for a 37-yard score on the ensuing Duquesne drive.

Later in the first quarter, Bryant quarterback Price Wilson found Vincent Nisivoccia for a 51-yard touchdown to even the game’s score.

Prior to a weather delay later on in the second quarter, the Dukes would score on an A.J. Hines rushing touchdown, but would miss out on the extra point when kicker Mitch MacZura’s attempt was blocked. Later, Bryant’s Robert Brown returned a Hines fumble for 46 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bulldogs a 14-13 lead.

The weather delay lasted for 80 minutes, and on the other side of it, the teams still found time left on the second quarter’s clock.

Duquesne had multiple opportunities to score before the halftime break, but an interception and a fumble — both coming inside the Bryant 15-yard line — helped the Bulldogs to hold on to their one-point lead heading into halftime.

As the second half began, Duquesne again gained momentum, with Parr connecting on a 40-yard pass to star senior receiver Nehari Crawford, which put the Dukes at the Bryant one-yard line. Allen caught his second score of the game plays later.

The game’s deciding score, however, came late in the third quarter, when Wilson found Alex Rasmussen for a 24-yard Bulldogs touchdown.

Duquesne only managed to gain one total yard in the fourth quarter, narrowly falling to Bryant, 21-20.

Parr completed 19 of 33 passes for 239 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked five times. Hines ran the ball 19 times for 75 yards for the Dukes, including one touchdown and two fumbles.

Crawford led the Dukes’ receiving corps with 113 yards on six receptions. Taylor reeled in a career-high eight receptions for 52 yards.

Defensive back Leandro DeBrito led Duquesne with seven total tackles, including six solo stops.

After the game, Schmitt remembered Brown, while also acknowledging the character that his team showed in deciding to play despite extreme emotional distress.

“What was crazy was the emotional factor,” Schmitt said. “Losing a teammate, a good friend — how hard that is, and then to come in and play a game like this that’s so emotional and back-and-forth. We wanted to play out best; we didn’t.

“It’s tough for me, it’s tough for our staff and it’s tough for 18- to 22-year-olds, to get focused,” Schmitt continued. “I think it was a little bit of a healing process for us to get back out on the field.”

Next, the Dukes will welcome rival Robert Morris to Rooney Field on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. Last season, Duquesne beat Robert Morris in Moon, 51-14.

So far this year, the Colonials are 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the NEC, with their only win coming Sept. 8 over D-II opponent Virginia State.

In preparing for RMU, Schmitt said that he was looking forward to returning to normalcy and routine, which is something the team hasn’t had over the past several weeks in traveling across the country to Hawaii, and then tragically losing one of its players. However, Schmitt said that before his team focuses on that, they’ll “celebrate JB’s life, mourn his loss and spend time with his family.

“Then, we’ll get back to work, and we’ll miss him, but we’ll continue to play for him.”

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