Dukes fall to Sacred Heart late in fourth quarter

Rebecca Kittel / The Duquesne Duke
Rebecca Kittel / The Duquesne Duke
Rebecca Kittel / The Duquesne Duke

Pat Higgins | Sports Editor

With twenty-three seconds to go on a fourth-and-goal in Saturday’s matchup against Sacred Heart, the Duquesne football team let a crucial conference win slip out of their grasp at Rooney Field.

Sacred Heart quarterback R.J. Noel found receiver Tyler Dube just inside the left pylon for a 12-yard touchdown that gave the Big Red a 23-20 win.

The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak at Rooney Field dating back to 2013.

Coach Jerry Schmitt said the defeat against a highly-rated conference opponent will be tough to deal with, but only for 24 hours in accordance with team policy.

“I thought [the defense] stepped up and did a good job on a good offensive team. They played their hearts out,” Schmitt said. “It’s a tough one to take right after the game. I’m proud of our kids. The effort was phenomenal, but we just move forward.”

Despite an injury that knocked starting quarterback Dillon Buechel out of the game in the first quarter, the Dukes still managed to carry a 20-16 lead into the final minute of the game. Junior wide receiver Chris King continued to produce at an outstanding rate, scoring two touchdowns on four catches for 113 yards. He leads the Football Championship Subdivision in receiving yards (915) and touchdown receptions (11).

Buechel is listed as doubtful for this week’s game against Alderson-Broaddus and will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis for an upper rib injury, according to the Duquesne athletic department.

After falling down 7-0 early, the Dukes’ offense sputtered a bit through the first half. Egolf managed to find King for a 15-yard touchdown with 13 seconds remaining in the first half to take the Red & Blue into halftime knotted at 7.

On their first drive of the second half, the offense converted excellent field position into points. Following a turnover on downs, Egolf found senior wide receiver Devin Rahming for a 12-yard touchdown pass to give the Dukes a 20-7 lead.

Though the offense took a bit to get things going, the defense was consistent all game. They held Sacred Heart’s power running game to 135 yards rushing and 204 yards passing. R.J. Noel amassed just under half of the team’s yardage on a 67-yard touchdown run to make it 20-14 late in the third quarter.

The defense held the lead at six through the end of the third quarter and most of the fourth. Pinned deep in their own territory on offense, the Red & Blue took a safety on a punt with 2:10 to go to make it 20-16.
Freshman linebacker Nathan Stone, who finished with seven tackles and one sack on the day, said the effort was steady but the final outcome is a tough one.
“Our offense was struggling, but defensively we felt good all game,” he said. “In the second half, there were just some blown assignments. We made one fourth down stand, we knew we’d have to come back out again. We just didn’t close out.”
Sacred Heart took over on the Duquesne 45-yard line following the ensuing punt with 2:02 to go. The Big Red converted on a fourth-and-three at the Duquesne 23 on a 20-yard pass from Noel to wide receiver Jackson King. Following a sack from junior linebacker Austin Whalen on second-and-goal, the Dukes forced an incomplete pass on third down. With 23 seconds to go on fourth down, Noel found Tyler Dube in the left corner of the end zone to give the Big Red a 23-20 victory.

With the loss to Sacred Heart, the top-ranked team in the NEC in the preseason, the Dukes fell to 1-1 in conference play. They’ll face non-conference opponent Alderson Broaddus this Saturday at noon at Rooney Field. The meeting will be the first between the two schools Broaddus is a Division II school with no football conference affiliation located in Phillippi, West Virginia.

After this weekend, the Dukes will resume NEC play, with four games remaining on the schedule.