Dukes fall in clash with West Virginia

Brentaro Yamane | Multimedia Editor | Duquesne quarterback Darius Perrantes rolls to his right as he evades the West Virginia pass rush on Saturday night. Perrantes finished the contest with 220 passing yards and two touchdowns.

Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor 

MORGANTOWN, W.V. — After entering a two-hour rain delay locked in a 4-point game, Duquesne fell 56-17 to West Virginia on Saturday night.

In just its third season competing against Power 5 opposition, Duquesne entered Milan Puskar Stadium to face a Mountaineer team that was coming off a loss to seventh-ranked Penn State.

It was the home opener in Morgantown, and the Dukes were forced to wait in the tunnel for the marching band to finish their pregame performance. When a state trooper gave him the go-ahead, Head Coach Jerry Schmitt led his team onto the field to a chorus of boos from the 50,037 fans in attendance.

In previous matchups with top-tier opponents, Duquesne had struggled to hold their own. In losses to TCU and Florida State, Duquesne trailed by three possessions after the first quarter, and had yet to score at halftime.

The Dukes shook that record on Saturday when quarterback Darius Perrantes found a falling DJ Powell at the pylon for a 39-yard touchdown. Less than three minutes into the game, Duquesne had a 7-0 lead over West Virginia. The Dukes set up that opportunity by recovering a live ball that was inadvertently touched by a Mountaineer on a punt.

When Duquesne immediately got the ball back after the touchdown, the crowd’s boos turned toward their bench, and Head Coach Neal Brown, and continued as the teams entered the second quarter tied at 7.

Aerial success was a theme of the first half for Duquesne. Schmitt began to lean heavily on Perrantes’ arm as the half went on. Another deep ball intended for Powell was intercepted, but two drives later, the Dukes threw the ball on eight consecutive plays. That drive brought the Dukes inside West Virginia’s 5-yard-line, and Perrantes found Teddy Afful on a slant route for a touchdown that appeared to have tied the game at 14. However, that play was called back for a pass interference penalty, and the Dukes were forced to settle for a field goal.

While Schmitt took responsibility for the crucial penalty, he wasn’t thrilled with the call when asked about it after the game.

“You watch the replay and tell me,” he said, “I think [the referees] do a great job but I see that play hundreds of times through college.”

With the Dukes trailing 14-10 at the 8:14 mark of the second quarter, officials stopped the game due to lightning in the area. It would not resume for one hour and 54 minutes.

At that stage in the game, Perrantes was on pace to throw the ball over 50 times. Schmitt felt his offense had done a good job executing their pass-heavy game plan.

“We think we have some pretty good skilled athletes and we thought we could take some chances and take some shots and they came through for us,” Schmitt said.

“For [Perrantes], a number of those were on scrambles and he does a really good job of that. I think they tried to take that away in the second half.”

“Their front, they’re big, fast, strong,” Perrantes said. “Obviously I had to make some plays when I could.”

As for his receivers, Perrantes was grateful for how they complimented his dynamic play style.

“They did great with the yards after the catch,” Perrantes said, “They just made my job a lot easier.”

The 4-point deficit was as close as Duquesne would come for the remainder of the game. On the other side of the weather delay, West Virginia scored three touchdowns in quick succession. The first came on a 70-yard pass to wide receiver Hudson Clement. It was the second of three touchdowns he scored. The Dukes were also severely stifled offensively between the rain delay and halftime, running a total of six offensive plays for negative 8 yards.

By that point, West Virginia led 35-10, and their key offensive starters had been taken out of the game.
“I think we had a lot of momentum rolling there through the first quarter,” said Antonio Epps, the Dukes’ leading tackler. “I definitely think it killed a little bit of momentum for us.”

Epps went on to say that the team could still take positives from the first half.

“We knew we could come in and compete with them, and I think we showed that in the first quarter,” he said, “and I think for the whole season we can go out there and compete with anybody.”

Whether they wanted to or not, Duquesne’s offense spent the evening living and dying in the air. They frequently tried to run the ball on early downs, but were stuffed by the Mountaineer front. Duquesne running backs only totaled 22 yards on 25 carries. Their second touchdown also came by way of a successful passing attack. After a third-down catch-and-run by Joey Isabella, Perrantes found Afful on consecutive passes totaling 61 yards to make it a 42-17 game.

Soon after that, Schmitt took his own starters out of the game.

Perrantes finished the night 14 of 31 passing for 220 yards. His two touchdowns were matched by a pair of interceptions.

Stadium lights reflected off puddles on empty bleacher seats as the teams grinded to the final whistle.

John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, boomed from the loudspeakers and the mouths of devout fans who waited out the weather delay. Duquesne players walked off to the applause of the traveling section, encouraged by a spirited performance.

“I’m never happy with a loss, but I’m proud of our young men and the way they handled themselves,” Schmitt said. “I’m not measuring the length of time [that the game is close]. We’re just going to grade out every single play and ‘how can we get better?’”

However, it isn’t often Duquesne walks out to a stadium shooting up pillars of flames or has student sections 20 rows deep cursing their names.

Schmitt described seeing cars parked on the side of the road miles from the stadium on their drive into town, and a sea of thousands of fans tailgating beyond the stadium gates. He said their bus driver looked at him and said, “This is the biggest event in the state this weekend.”

As Duquesne prepared to enter the field for warmups, Schmitt reflected on his team’s attitude entering the intoxicating environment. He recited the speech he had just given to his team; “Enjoy the atmosphere, but once the game starts, it’s all football,” he said.

“It’s the pomp and circumstance of college football. I tell them all the time: It’s the greatest thing in the world, but you can’t let it affect how you play.”

Not all of the crowd noise was against the Dukes. There was a sizable section of fans wearing red and blue that erupted in cheers at the Dukes’ early success. Dozens of current students made the trip south, as did University President Ken Gormley and several generations of Duquesne football alumni.

But for two hours in the second quarter, Duquesne’s players were stuffed in a locker room below those fans. Through the walls on the opposite side of Duquesne’s lockers, West Virginia’s players waited out the delay in their 39,000 square foot training center that was equipped with treadmills, sleeping pods, and a ceiling that replicated a starry night sky.

After instructing his players to remove their pads, Schmitt spoke to his team. “If you’ve got to take a nap, we’ll wake you up.”

While being exceptionally gracious for the hosting staff at West Virginia, Schmitt conceded that it was inevitable that they would struggle with the logistics of an indefinite delay on the road.

“It took 45 minutes for them to rally up food for a hundred guys.”

Epps said he took the opportunity to build chemistry in the locker rooms.

“[I] Just vibed with [my teammates],’ he said. “Trying to enjoy our time here.”

The loss dropped Duquesne to 1-1 on the season, while elevating WVU to an identical record.

“Everyone was looking at a blowout,” Epps said, “I think we showed a lot of people what Duquesne can really do.”

In terms of future improvement, Schmitt was resistant to being excessively hard on his players’ performances, as they had come against some of the top athletes in the country.

“You can’t control sometimes the skill and the athleticism of some of the players,” he said. “Sometimes they just make a play that’s better than you, and you just get up and go make the next play. That’s what is great about football and competition.”

The Dukes will get another shot at FBS opposition this Saturday when they travel to face Coastal Carolina at 6.