Dukes falls into winner-take-all game

Dylan Fister | Staff Photographer | It all comes down to Saturday for the Dukes.

Aidan Wiess | Staff Writer

Duquesne fell to Stonehill, 33-28, in a thriller Saturday afternoon, failing to clinch the Northeast Conference, and setting up a de facto conference title game against Merrimack.

“The Dukes did not play our best football game,” said Head Coach Jerry Schmitt. “We probably made more mistakes than we have in a long time.”

Schmitt’s squad nearly staged a miracle comeback but was simply unable to overcome a nightmarish start. Stonehill’s game-winning touchdown in the final minute means Duquesne still has work to do for their first playoff appearance since 2018.

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Skyhawks immediately went to work, with running back Jermaine Corbett gashing the defense for several long gains. However, the Dukes tightened and forced a field goal.

Getting the ball facing an immediate deficit, the Dukes made the first of several crucial mistakes when quarterback Darius Perrantes muffled the exchange to his running back and fumbled. The Skyhawks recovered and scored a touchdown three plays later, giving themselves a 10-0 lead.

On the very next Duquesne play, running back Edward Robinson was hit and lost the football, and Stonehill linebacker Justin Waters brought it back for a touchdown giving his team a 17-0 lead before the halfway point of the first quarter.

The Duquesne offense desperately needed a response, and they had one. Keshawn Brown brought the kick return to the Duquesne 40, Perrantes hooked up with Tedy Afful for a big third-down conversion, and Jamario Clements punched it in from 2 yards out.

Stonehill drove down the field and got another field goal, and Duquesne was forced into rough field position in the middle of second quarter. Enter Keshawn Brown, who caught a short slant from Perrantes and beat the entire defense down the sideline for an 89-yard touchdown making it a 20-14 game and giving the home crowd life for the first time.

The Duquesne offense wasted no time. On third-and-7, Perrantes found daylight on a scramble and bolted down the right sideline for a 34-yard touchdown. After being down 17-0 to start the game, the Dukes led 21-20 at halftime.

The second half started slowly, but Stonehill’s sloppiness again got the best of them. On a fourth-and-1 in Duquesne territory, the Skyhawks ran a wildcat formation for Corbett, who had been gashing the Dukes all game. However, Corbett fumbled while attempting to gain the yardage and took his anger out on the officials. He was ejected, costing Stonehill a key player and seemingly giving the Duquesne defense a break.

However, the Stonehill offense did not skip a beat. After the Duquesne offense lost the ball on downs, the Skyhawk backup running back, Zavion Woodard, came in and continued to pound the rock. He punched it in from a yard out to give Stonehill a 27-21 lead.

From here, the Duquesne offense got tantalizingly close to the end zone on back-to-back drives. On the first drive, a big Joey Isabella catch had the Dukes on the Stonehill 7. However, Perrantes threw a pass that got batted in the air at the line and intercepted.

After another Stonehill punt, Duquesne marched down the field with some big throws from Perrantes, and Edward Robinson scored from the 2 to give Duquesne a 28-27 lead. It seemed the game would come down to a Stonehill drive.

Things did not get off to a good start for Duquesne, as the kickoff was a baffling pooch kick that Stonehill fielded at the 35 that got their drive started with great field position. From there, a 29-yard-completion to tight end Noah Canty put the Skyhawks in field-goal range. Chris Domercant scored on an end-around to give Stonehill the 33-28 lead with 50 seconds left.

It seemed like Duquesne allowed the touchdown to leave themselves some time, but that was not the case.

“We were trying to stop them,” defensive end Ryan Lopez said. “A couple of guys knew jet sweep was coming. We were yelling out on the field, but the play we were in made us go inside. We tried to adjust to it last second but we couldn’t.”

Perrantes had time for a pair of last-gasp passes, but Stonehill cornerback Jahnez Williams made the play of the game, leaping up and scraping a fingertip on the throw, forcing an incompletion. Perrantes’ final pass was about five yards out of bounds in the end zone, and Stonehill celebrated their second win in a row over the Dukes.

Perrantes was plagued by incompletions all afternoon. He finished nine-for-25 passing, with a pair of interceptions. However, his gross production was still impressive. His 298 total yards meant that he averaged 33.1 yards per completion. For this performance, he was still tabbed as an NEC Prime Performer.

“The ball didn’t come out with the crispness that it does when he’s going down the field,” Schmitt said. “There are a few things I know he would have liked to have back.”

Early in the second half, a big play occurred that would affect the Dukes the rest of the game. While scrambling, Perrantes was hit by a Stonehill play and pulled up gimpy. Although he stayed in the game, it was a struggle the rest of the way. Offensive tackle Tommy Brandt struck a similar tone to Coach Schmitt, and was confident in his quarterback.

“He’s a tough [guy], so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s ready to go next week,” Brandt said.

Schmitt was disappointed but optimistic about next week’s affair against Merrimack.

“It would be huge for us to overcome this adversity. Major disappointment obviously, so I told [the team] we own this,” he said. “In 24 hours, we’re going to get back to work and play our last football game next week.”

“I think the biggest thing for us is going to be our short mindset,” Brandt said. “Just looking to next week, there are some things we could’ve executed better today and done better. We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times. I think the biggest thing for us is going to have to be looking forward to next week and getting to work this week and going to win that championship at Merrimack.”

Because of the loss, the Dukes will have their season on the line at Merrimack on Saturday. The Dukes lead Merrimack by one game for the top spot in the NEC standings. The winner of their game clinches the NEC championship, and an automatic bid for the FCS playoffs.