Duquesne football edges Bryant in NEC thriller

Courtesy of Melissa Triebwasser | Quarterback Darius Perrantes at TCU Sept. 4.

Adam Lindner | Staff Writer

Oct. 14, 2021

Clichés get a bad rap. Oftentimes, deservedly so.

“Cliché,” after all, is defined as ‘a phrase or opinion that … betrays a lack of original thought.’ Regardless, they endure.

And hey, as the old cliché goes: Some of ‘em exist for a reason.

‘It’s a game of inches’ is one of sports’ oldest tropes. It’s a tired and stale quip, but one that persists today.

On Saturday, though — during Duquesne’s thrilling 39-34 win over Bryant — it was less about actual inches and more about the referees’ judgments regarding several too-close-to-call plays.

A highly disputed Duquesne extra-point attempt and a breathtaking finish at the goal line as time expired provided players and fans alike with an unforgettable afternoon of football at Rooney Field.

On the game’s final play, Bryant quarterback Zevi Eckhaus completed a half-field heave to wide receiver David Zorrilla inside the Duquesne 1-yard line. Zorrilla was initially ruled down just outside the end zone, and a lengthy replay review authenticated a wild Duquesne victory.

The Duquesne sideline roared jubilantly following the referees’ decision as a dejected group of Bulldogs trudged off the field.

“I really thought I was in,” a despondent Zorrilla said as he walked to the locker room.

Even with the help of replay review, it was, and still is, truly too close to call.

Duquesne wide receiver Wykeen Gill could offer only one memory to rival Saturday’s nutty ending. A former Kansas State Wildcat, Gill watched from the sidelines in 2016 as K-State stifled a Patrick Mahomes-led comeback effort, giving the ‘Cats a riveting 44-38 win over Mahomes’ Texas Tech Red Raiders.

“It was literally a parallel universe. I was a true freshman redshirt,” Gill said, recalling the ‘16 thriller. In that game, Texas Tech mounted a fierce comeback in the game’s waning seconds, only for Mahomes to be hit by a K-State defender before launching an errant Hail Mary on the game’s final play.

The heightened emotions Gill experienced Saturday afternoon, though?

“Never been to that level. That felt a little bit more important to me.”

Gill played an integral role in Saturday’s game, contributing 179 all-purpose yards for the Dukes, including a 50-yard punt return to the Bryant 6-yard line in the game’s second quarter. Quarterback Darius Perrantes parlayed Gill’s punt return into a rushing touchdown on the Dukes’ ensuing possession, knotting the game at 14-14.

Perrantes would connect with wide receiver Cyrus Holder in the back-left corner of the end zone prior to halftime, giving the Dukes a touchdown-sized lead at the break.

All hell broke loose following halftime. Bryant tied the game with a 47-yard rushing touchdown three minutes into the half before Duquesne answered to regain the lead.

It appeared as though Duquesne kicker Brian Bruzdewicz connected on his extra-point attempt following the Dukes’ touchdown with roughly three minutes remaining in the third quarter. The kick was high, but it seemed to align itself within the goal post’s left upright.

Players from both Duquesne and Bryant proceeded to jog off the field before the referees signaled that the attempt was no good.

“All our kids felt it was good. I thought it was good, but I had a (tough) angle,” Duquesne Head Coach Jerry Schmitt said postgame. “Our team didn’t show any reaction (following the kick). They were shocked.

“There’s not a review for that. Nothing you can do with that.”

Minutes later, Duquesne’s offense found itself in the red zone. Following three fruitless attempts to punch the ball into the end zone, Schmitt settled for a field goal, which put his team up by nine with a little more than 10 minutes remaining.

“There (were) a lot of things going through my head,” Schmitt said regarding the decision to take the three points. “Sometimes it (comes down to the) flow of the game. I just felt we had to get some points to give our defense a cushion. Could have gone either way – I angled back and forth.

“I think I had the offense out there to go for it, but called it off.”

Perrantes said Duquesne’s coaches value the offense’s input when it comes to decisions like the one the Dukes faced on fourth-and-goal. Ultimately, though, this one was the coaching staff’s call.

“The coaches definitely listen to me,” Duquesne’s signal-caller said. “But that’s why they’re coaches — they know what they’re calling.”

Bryant, as Schmitt’s luck would have it, would then proceed to score two touchdowns, the second of which came with 1:54 remaining in the game. Bryant’s score with just under two minutes to go gave the Bulldogs a 34-33 lead, but they’d fail to convert on their ensuing two-point conversion try.

Duquesne then executed its two-minute offense to near perfection as it marched the length of the field, culminating with a Davie Henderson touchdown catch with 31 seconds remaining.

The game’s outcome came down to the aforementioned final play, with Duquesne eventually prevailing with its fourth-straight victory.

With the win, Duquesne (4-1, 2-0) remained undefeated in Northeast Conference play. Bryant fell to 1-1 in NEC competition following the loss.

Duquesne will enjoy a bye this Saturday before returning to action at Sacred Heart (3-3, 1-1 NEC) Oct. 23.

Interestingly enough, the Dukes and Pioneers have already played twice in 2021. Duquesne was victorious March 7 before falling to Sacred Heart in the title game of the NEC’s truncated spring season.

Gill was happy with the close conference win, but stressed the importance of continued improvement for his team. He’s particularly concerned with the offense’s continued attention to detail.

“I feel like we left a lot of points on the board today, maybe even put the defense in some high-and-tight situations,” Gill said. “Timing, taking things one step at a time.

“I know it sounds cliché, but those are the keys to football.”