By Andrew White | Staff Writer
The Duquesne Dukes outlasted the Bryant Bulldogs 35-31 at Rooney Field on Saturday to get back into the NEC championship hunt.
The Dukes fell behind early after giving up a touchdown on the Bulldogs opening drive that started at their own three yard line. The drive lasted nearly five minutes as Bryant drove down the field and was capped of by Dalton Easton connecting with Keenan Thompson on a 32-yard pass.
The Dukes matched with a touchdown drive of their own as senior Dillon Buechel hooked up with graduate transfer Blair Roberts on a 13-yard strike in the endzone.
On the following possession the Bulldogs stormed right back down the field, and with the help of two third down conversions took a 10-7 lead on a Ricky Perez 26 yard field goal.
Bryant added to their lead halfway through the second quarter after linebacker Thomas Costigan strip-sacked Buechel and recovered the football on the Duquesne five yard line. On the following play Easton once again connected with Thompson to extend the Bryant lead to 14 points.
This wasn’t the end of the action for Costigan either. On the following Duquesne possession the sophomore made a leaping grab to intercept Buechel. The interception once again led to points as Easton connected with Thompson on the very next play for a 22-yard touchdown pass to give the Bulldogs a commanding 24-7 lead.
The Dukes managed to put seven more points on the board before the half ended as Buechel and freshman running back A.J. Hines drove the Dukes down the field. The drive was capped off by Buechel hitting Roberts on a slant with 1:58 remaining in the half.
The Dukes drew first blood in the second half when Hines found the endzone on a one yard run to cut the deficit to three. The run was set up by a third down reception by senior receiver Wayne Capers that went for 50 yards, down to the Bulldogs four yard line.
After forcing a fumble on the ensuing kickoff the Dukes were unable to come away with points as kicker Austin Crimmins missed a 28 yard field goal wide left.
The Dukes were able to take their first lead of the game on their next possession though as Buechel found Roberts on an out and up route for a 43 yard touchdown reception. The touchdown gave the Dukes a 28-24 lead with 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs would not go down easy though. Easton connected with Thompson for the fourth time on the day for a 14 yard catch and run to give the Bulldogs a three point lead early on in the fourth quarter.
The Dukes wasted no time and retook the lead on Blair Roberts fourth touchdown reception of the game.
The Dukes were able to hold onto their 35-31 lead for the remainder of the game, large in part to a methodical 12 play, seven minute drive late in the fourth quarter.
Bryant had one last shot when they got the ball back on their own 16 with 42 seconds left, but they were unable to do anything with it.
Roberts finished with an impressive stat line of eight catches, 153 yards and four touchdowns.
“The coaches put in a couple of plays that worked against the defense and we just ran them to perfection,” Roberts said.
A.J. Hines put together another great game as he rushed for 161 yards on 30 carries and added a touchdown.
Hines talked about his success throughout the season.
“The coaches help me succeed and the offensive line does their job, which lets me do mine,” Hines said.
After falling behind by 17 points the Dukes woke up late in the second quarter and turned it on for good in the third.
“We are always going to keep playing, we just challenged the players a little bit to get focused,” head coach Jerry Schmitt said.
Schmitt credits his team for executing in the second half and not giving up on the game.
The Dukes look to keep things going in NEC play when they travel to Wagner next weekend. Duquesne returns to the Bluff on November 12 for senior day against Sacred Heart University.