Dukes one win away from NEC crown

Courtesy of Duquesne Athletics | Khatavian Franks bursts free into open space.

Aidan Wiess | Staff Writer

Two touchdowns from Edward Robinson fueled the Dukes to a 34-26 victory over Wagner on Saturday afternoon. The win clinched at least a share of the regular season title in the Northeast Conference, and their 5-0 start is the best since moving to the NEC in 2008.

Wagner wasn’t shy against the top of the league, especially in the running game, where they outgained the Dukes 226-92. Meanwhile, the passing attack was a strength for the Dukes, with quarterback Darius Perrantes having four throws over 20 yards.

Perrantes opened the scoring early in the second quarter, when he rolled out to his right and threw a beautiful spiral on the run to streaking receiver Tedy Afful for a 45-yard touchdown.

After a Wagner three-and-out, Perrantes and the offense went back to work with a 91-yard touchdown drive. After mostly grinding the ball on the ground for eight plays, Perrantes had another long third-down conversion, this time a deep pass to wide receiver Joey Isabella, to put the Dukes in the red zone. From there, Robinson punched it in from the three to give the Dukes a two-touchdown lead.

Robinson has emerged as a stalwart running back for the Dukes. The freshman has shown up in recent weeks as fellow backs JaMario Clements and Taj Butts nurse injuries.

“When they go down, it’s just my time to step up and hold it down for our [backs],” Robinson said. He talked about how the trio have learned from each other so that whomever gets called upon is ready to live up to the moment.

“We’re really close with each other, so we keep it real. We’re always critiquing each other, always finding ways to get better,” he said.

However, the Seahawks would battle back. The highlight of the next drive for Wagner was a deep throw from quarterback Steven Krajewski to wide receiver Kobi Ray-Reed for 43 yards to put them in the red zone. Running back Rickey Spruill punched it in from two yards out to make it 14-6. However, the Duquesne special teams unit came up clutch as Jaelen Carson flew in to block the extra point, which would prove crucial in the second half.

Wagner got the ball to start the second half and marched down the field, bringing the deficit to a single point. Krajewski connected with a wide-open Spruill down the left sideline for 19 yards to finish the drive and put the pressure on the Dukes to answer back.

Wagner took the lead when Zachary Palmer-Smith burst through the middle of the line, broke a tackle and went 66 yards to the crib. After a false start on the two-point conversion, the Seahawks were forced to settle for the extra point, but they still secured a 20-14 lead.

Perrantes and the Dukes offense were not going down without a fight. The next drive was a six-minute affair with no big plays, but it ended with Edward Robinson scoring his second of the day from 11 yards out to put the Dukes back in front.

Robinson has found the end zone three times in the last two games, and he was rewarded with career-high 27 carries on Saturday.

“To come in and learn the system and keep getting better and better, he’s a talented young man,” said Head Coach Jerry Schmitt. “That’s been a huge impact on our program and our offense.”

The defense took over for the Dukes from there. On Wagner’s next drive, a misfire from Krajewski led to the ball dropping into the hands of linebacker Khatavian Franks, who took it 30 yards to the house for a massive score, giving the Dukes an 8-point cushion they would not relinquish.

However, the Seahawks rallied back, scoring a touchdown with less than two minutes left to set up an all-important two-point conversion that could have tied the game. However, defensive back CJ Barnes came flying across the field with a perfectly timed hit to break up a completion and secure the Dukes’ lead.

Subsequently, Duquesne recovered the onside kick and retained possession. However, they had to punt the ball back to Wagner, leaving the Seahawks 2 seconds to go 80 yards. Krajewski attempted to get a pass off, but was stripped by defensive lineman Ryan Lopez, who ran it back for a touchdown to end the game.

The Dukes have a two-game lead for the Northeast Conference title race with two games to play. The Dukes are next in action Saturday for Senior Day against Stonehill, looking to clinch the conference outright and earn an automatic bid into the FCS playoffs.

Robinson joked about how he’d never gotten a championship ring before. He’s excited for the opportunity to earn one on Saturday.

“We’re planning on getting this win, and getting some rest before the playoffs come in. We’re ready to handle business,” he said.