Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
Following a dominant 51-14 victory over crosstown NEC rival Robert Morris on Oct. 14, Duquesne’s football team (5-1, 2-0) is preparing for perhaps the most vital game that the Northeast Conference has seen over the course of the past three-plus years.
But the Dukes won’t tell you that.
“Well, we know it’s a very important game, and we know [that] this game [may] potentially [be] the conference championship, but we are preparing for this game just like any other game,” star sophomore tailback A.J. Hines said via text on Oct. 18. “We have a saying, which is ‘[the upcoming] game is important because it’s the next game.’”
At 12 p.m. on Oct. 21, Duquesne will welcome reigning NEC champion St. Francis (4-2, 2-0) to Arthur J. Rooney Athletic Field for the NEC Game of the Week, exactly one year after losing to St. Francis 14-10 on Oct. 21, 2016 in Loretto, Pa.
The Dukes won a share of the NEC regular-season title alongside St. Francis last year but missed out on the FCS playoffs since St. Francis owned the head-to-head tiebreaker between the two squads. Both finished 5-1 last season in conference play, with St. Francis’ lone conference loss coming on Nov. 19, 2016 at Wagner.
St. Francis lost in the first round of the 2016 FCS playoffs to No. 9 Villanova, 31-21.
The year prior, Duquesne won the conference title outright in 2015, going on to lose in the first round of the FCS playoffs to No. 13 William & Mary, 52-49, with St. Francis finishing second in the conference at 4-2 (NEC).
Now, days removed from a rubber match that may very well determine the NEC’s 2017 FCS playoff participant, the conference’s top-two teams prepare to meet in an intrastate showdown in Pittsburgh.
Riding a five-game winning streak into Saturday, the Dukes will rely on a high-powered offensive attack led by graduate quarterback Tommy Stuart, who is tied for the FCS lead in passing scores with 20 touchdowns thrown this season, and wide receiver Nehari Crawford, who leads the country with 10 receiving touchdowns this year.
With the conference’s top scoring offense averaging 35.5 points per game, Duquesne hopes to maintain its momentum against St. Francis, who boasts the league’s top defense (12.0 points against per game).
The Red Flash, fresh off of a 30-14 road win over Bryant in which they forced four Bulldog turnovers, is 0-8 all-time versus Duquesne at Rooney Field, and 2-20 versus Duquesne in Pittsburgh all-time in a series that dates back to 1913.
Junior St. Francis wide receiver Kamron Lewis, the 2016 NEC Offensive Player of the Year, recorded 202 yards receiving and a touchdown on Oct. 14 versus Bryant.
Duquesne’s defense will need to make a concerted effort to maintain Lewis, whose high usage rate has led to his No. 6 spot in the nation in receptions per game (8.2), and junior tailback Jymere Jordan-Toney, who leads the NEC with 92.3 rushing yards per game.
DU’s offense hopes that its passing game’s success will sustain against SFU. In a rainy game last year in Loretto, Hines rushed for 128 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries, but the Dukes only recorded 150 passing yards.