Spencer Thomas | Staff Writer
Sept. 16, 2021
Less than 30 years ago, Duquesne was a Division III program, the lowest rung on NCAA’s college football ladder.
Even current Head Coach Jerry Schmitt – an assistant coach at the school in the early 1990s – “couldn’t even imagine” being in a position to play an FBS-level program, let alone defeat one.
But this past Saturday, despite the expectations of many in the college football world, the Dukes stormed into Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio, and defeated the Ohio Bobcats, 28-26.
The win was the first for Duquesne over an FBS program since it joined the FCS ranks in 1993. It was also the first time that a member of the Northeast Conference has ever defeated an FBS-level school.
After a 42-point loss at TCU in the season’s opening week, the Dukes entered the matchup with the Bobcats as a 28.5-point underdog.
Saturday’s contest couldn’t have started much worse for Duquesne. The Dukes’ opening kickoff was returned 83 yards by Ohio’s De’Montre Tuggle for a touchdown, giving the Bobcats the lead just 13 seconds into the game.
However, Ohio kicker Stephen Johnson failed to convert the extra point, and this miscue would come back to haunt the Bobcats.
That could have been it. The Dukes could have resigned themselves to another FBS loss, especially after losing starting quarterback Joe Mischler to injury in the TCU contest.
Backup quarterback Darius Perrantes had other plans. The transfer from Rhode Island came out strong in his first start at Duquesne, completing all four of his pass attempts on the opening drive. Duquesne got on the board with a 23-yard field goal from Brian Bruzdewicz to trim Ohio’s lead to 6-3.
Ohio struck back quickly, finding the end zone in just three plays to extend its lead to 13-3. However, Duquesne’s offense remained undeterred.
Perrantes responded by leading a 15-play drive, which included a fourth-down conversion where he used his legs to roll right and complete a pass to wide receiver Wykeen Gill to keep the drive alive. Bruzdewicz would tack on three more points with a 38-yard field goal to make the score 13-6.
“They embraced him [Perrantes] as our leader on offense,” Schmitt said postgame. “He took it and did a really good job.”
On the first possession following Bruzdewicz’s second field goal, the Dukes’ defense locked in, swarming the Ohio backfield and recording two tackles for loss.
As the first quarter clock was expiring, the Bobcats were forced to work with a short field following a long punt. Duquesne defensive linemen A.J. Ackerman and Maxi Hradecny combined to trap Ohio running back O’Shaan Allison in the end zone and force a safety, cutting the score to 13-8.
Bruzdewicz added his third field goal of the first half with less than a minute left in the second quarter. Despite having three drives stall out in the red zone, the Dukes entered the locker room at halftime trailing just 13-11.
Perhaps this was due — at least in part — to the Dukes’ defense, which kept the Bobcats off the scoreboard in the second and third quarters, allowing a combined total of just 81 yards across the two quarters.
On the Dukes’ opening drive of the third quarter, it seemed as if the offense was again going to fall just short of a six-point score.
On fourth-and-inches, Perrantes bucked the trend. He dove over a line of bodies and into the end zone to give the Dukes their first touchdown of the game (and the season). The score also gave Duquesne an 18-13 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.
Duquesne was able to stave off the pressure that comes when traveling to an FBS stadium by completely controlling the game. Ohio controlled possession for less than 18 minutes of the game, while Duquesne held the ball for over 41 minutes.
A strong performance by the Duquesne offensive line enabled a running attack led by Garrett Owens and Billy Lucas. While splitting carries, the pair of running backs combined for 159 yards and provided a strong security blanket for an inexperienced quarterback in Perrantes.
“I wouldn’t be here without them [Owens and Lucas],” Perrantes said postgame. “They couldn’t stop us in the trenches.”
Duquesne’s composure was also evidenced by its ability to abstain from taking penalties. The Dukes only lost 42 yards to penalties, while Ohio was flagged 12 times for 112 yards.
A three-yard touchdown catch from Joey Isabella early in the fourth quarter gave Duquesne a 25-13 lead. Bobcats quarterback Kurtis Rourke responded with a two-yard rushing score just four minutes later to bring the score to 25-20.
Bruzdewicz added his fourth field goal of the day with just under three minutes remaining in the game, a 27-yard kick that would ultimately prove to be the game-winner.
After Ohio’s Ty Walton caught a three-yard touchdown pass from Rourke with nine seconds left on the scoreboard, the Bobcats trailed by two points (28-26) and only had one option to try to force overtime: attempt a game-tying two-point conversion. Rourke’s attempt was just barely overthrown and fell incomplete.
After Duquesne secured Ohio’s onside kick attempt, Perrantes was able to take a knee and officially clinch the historic victory.
“We just had to believe in ourselves and believe in our coaching,” Perrantes said. “I knew we would get it done.”
After a scheduled bye week, the Dukes will return to action on Sept. 25, when they host Virginia University of Lynchburg in their home opener at Rooney Field.