Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
Following Duquesne’s 37-21 win at Sacred Heart on Oct. 28, the Dukes (7-1, 4-0) sit atop the Northeast Conference (FCS) ahead of their Nov. 4 game at Liberty.
Sophomore running back A.J. Hines matched a career-high three rushing touchdowns on the afternoon, totaling 88 yards on 18 carries against the Pioneers (3-5, 1-2). Hines previously ran for three scores against Bucknell in a 30-19 win on Sept. 10, 2016.
“It felt good getting three TDs again,” Hines said. “I just want to give all the credit to my line, and also [our] wide receivers for blocking for me and opening up seams for me to find. It gives all of us confidence [when the ground game is successful] and makes us a better offense.”
Duquesne’s win on Oct. 28 is the team’s seventh straight, with its last loss coming on Aug. 31 at No. 4 South Dakota State.
The Dukes are a perfect 4-0 in conference for the first time since 2005, and for the first time ever as a member of the Northeast Conference, which Duquesne began to compete in in 2008.
Against Sacred Heart, the Dukes recorded 461 total yards of offense despite a slow start on the scoreboard.
Sophomore kicker John Domit accounted for the Dukes’ six points in the first quarter, connecting on 41- and 37-yard field goals to put Duquesne up 6-0.
Sacred Heart tied the game in the second quarter with a rushing touchdown, but the Pioneers missed the extra point. Following Sacred Heart’s score, Duquesne scored 28 unanswered points before Sacred Heart scored again. By then, it was too late.
The Pioneers fell to 1-2 in the NEC with the loss.
In addition to Hines’ three rushing scores, junior wide receiver Nehari Crawford scored his 11th receiving touchdown of the season on a 56-yard connection with quarterback Tommy Stuart.
Crawford finished the day with 143 receiving yards on six catches, and Stuart completed 16 of 21 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown.
Freshman running back DeWayne Murray III compiled 67 yards on 18 carries on the afternoon, including three first down runs in the fourth quarter to help Duquesne preserve its lead over the opposition.
Murray was named the NEC Rookie of the Week for his performance.
Though Sacred Heart came into the game ranked 19th in the country in total defense, Duquesne managed to record 461 yards on the day — Duquesne’s second-highest total on the season.
Stuart said that he is confident in the success that the team has been able to enjoy lately, but remains motivated ahead of the regular-season’s final stages.
“[Yeah], we have been playing well of late but [there is always] still room to improve and get better,” Stuart said. “[We] have a tough non-conference match up this weekend that we are preparing for.”
While the quarterback is focused on this weekend’s upcoming game versus Liberty, he is proud of the way that those around him have been able to perform lately.
“[The] offensive line has done an awesome job, along with [the] receivers, tight ends and running backs,” Stuart remarked.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Dukes were led by cornerback Malik Shegog, who added seven tackles and recorded an interception, and linebacker Carter Henderson, who had eight tackes, including seven solo stops.
Senior safety Abner Roberts had his team-leading fourth interception, as well.
Following Duquesne’s triumph, the Dukes received votes in both the latest STATS FCS Top 25 poll, as well as the latest FCS Coaches Poll. The Dukes received 73 votes in the STATS poll, and garnered two votes in the Coaches poll.
As things stand now, Duquesne figures to win the NEC outright barring a loss to Central Connecticut State on Nov. 11 or at Bryant on Nov. 18.
Before then, on Nov. 4, Duquesne takes a break from Northeast Conference play to play FBS-bound Liberty in Lynchburg, Va. The Flames, who compete in the Big South Conference, are in the process of transitioning from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“We know it’s a great opportunity to go on the road and get a big win,” Hines said of the Liberty game. “So we are preparing with a humble/hungry mindset, [hoping to] get this win and maybe have a chance to be ranked in the country.”
Earlier this year, Liberty upset Baylor in Waco, Texas, beating the Big XII’s Bears 48-45 on Sept. 2.
Weeks later, the Flames fell at home to Duquesne’s NEC foe Saint Francis (Pa.) on Sept. 30, 13-7. Liberty (4-4, 1-2 BSC) was ranked at the time, but is now unranked following a four-game losing streak that stretched from Sept. 23 to Oct. 21.
The 2017-18 season will be Liberty’s last in the FCS, as the Flames will compete as an FBS school next season. The Flames have yet to find a conference and will compete at the FBS level next season as an Independent. The Flames’ 2018 football schedule includes dates with the likes of regional rival Old Dominion, Army, New Mexico, Troy, UMass, Virginia and Auburn.
Duquesne’s lone game versus an FBS opponent came on Aug. 30, 2014, against Buffalo. The Dukes fell 38-28 to the Bulls in the program’s first game versus an FBS opponent. Duquesne was only the NEC’s third school to ever play an FBS school when the Dukes traveled to western New York in 2014 to take on the Bulls.
The Dukes are scheduled to play two more FBS teams next season, when they will face UMass and the University of Hawaii.
Duquesne will open its 2018 schedule on Aug. 25 at UMass, who plays its home games at Gillette Stadium, the home of the NFL’s New England Patriots.
On Sept. 22, 2018, the Dukes will play their first game west of the Rocky Mountains since 1947, when Duquesne played at San Francisco, when Jerry Schmitt’s team travels to Hawaii to take on the Rainbow Warriors.
For now, the Dukes are content dominating the FCS’ NEC ranks.
After Duquesne’s game on Nov. 4, Central Connecticut State will come to Rooney Field on Nov. 11 for Duquesne’s final regular-season home game of the season. Duquesne will conclude its 2017 regular-season at Bryant on Nov. 18 in Smithfield, R.I.
There is much to be gained in the Dukes’ final three games, with a game versus a future FBS school, a perfect conference record, and a potential national ranking all on the line.
On that same token, the Dukes have much to lose.