James Leo | Staff Writer
Oct. 10, 2019
Picked as the preseason favorites to win the NEC, the Duquesne football team (3-2, 1-0) opened up conference play with a strong win over Long Island.
If Duquesne finishes atop the NEC (they are currently tied for first), they could earn a spot in the FCS Playoffs. Since joining the NEC in 2008, Duquesne has won the conference five times: in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2018.
Duquesne set the tone early in the game. Of LIU’s six first half drives, only two crossed into Duquesne territory, neither of which led to points.
Senior defensive back Daivon Ellison was notably impactful — he recovered a fumble late in the first half to stop a threatening drive from LIU and also tallied a pair of interceptions to halt two other LIU drives. This effort earned Ellison NEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Duquesne’s offense, aided by the return of senior running back A.J. Hines, came out firing early. The Dukes’ nine play, 74-yard opening drive helped them get out to an early 7-0 lead; the running back tandem of Hines and Mark Allen was simply too much for LIU to handle.
Hines, who had missed the last two games due to injury, was ecstatic to be back on the field. “It felt great to be back out there,” Hines said. “It’s been a long two weeks; I’ve been itching to get back on that field.”
Hines’ 140-yard day put him over 4,000 rushing yards for his career, a feat only two other running backs had achieved in Duquesne’s history. Hines was extremely humbled to be such a large part of Duquesne Football’s history.
“It’s definitely been a quick four years, but I’ve loved every bit of it,” Hines said. “It feels great to be in the history books with the greats, as I continue to do whatever I can to help my team get better.”
A field goal from senior kicker Mitch Maczura gave the Dukes a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter. Then, a sack from freshman linebacker Todd Hill forced a fumble, which was then recovered by Ellison with under 30 seconds left in the first half. Junior kicker Jacob Gill then drilled a 45-yard field goal as the first half ended to give the Dukes a 13-0 first half lead.
Duquesne continued their defensive dominance into the second half. Ellison picked up his second interception of the day on LIU’s opening drive of the second half, giving the Dukes good field position on offense.
Later in the third quarter, a successful 50-yard pass from LIU quarterback Clay Beathard to Tosin Oyekanmi gave the Sharks the ball deep in Duquesne territory. Five plays later, they were able to punch it in, making the score 13-7. Strong defense from both sides kept the score 13-7 as the third quarter came to a close.
A ten-play, 80 yard drive (capped off by a touchdown from A.J. Hines) gave the Dukes a 21-7 lead early in the fourth quarter. However, LIU would answer back with a seven-minute drive of their own, making the score 21-14.
With four minutes left in the game and a 21-14 lead, Duquesne regained possession but was faced with a crucial 3rd and 2. After an LIU timeout, Hines pushed forward for six yards, giving Duquesne the first down and essentially icing the game.
Head coach Jerry Schmitt was proud of his team’s performance.
“It was really important that we were able to establish a balance between the pass and the run,” Schmitt said. “That deterred them for loading the box, especially against A.J.”
He also had high praise for his defense.
“I thought our defense rallied to the ball really well; they gave a little bit, but they didn’t break,” Schmitt said. “There were a couple big plays, but for the most part we kept [LIU] in check.”
While the team is focused on the bigger picture (winning the NEC), they are taking it one game at a time.
“It’s good to get off to a good start; it’s a tough conference, and anybody can beat anybody,” Schmitt said. “It’ll be a challenge the whole season; we just have to stay focused on getting better.”
A.J. Hines expressed a similar sentiment. “Of course, I think we can repeat as NEC Champions. But at the end of the day, we have to work to go get it, and that starts with our next game against Sacred Heart.”
After a bye week, Duquesne will play at Sacred Heart on Saturday, Oct. 19, as they look to build on their recent success.
Last season, the Dukes beat Sacred Heart 28-24 at Rooney Field. Overall, Duquesne has posted a 10-4 record against the Pioneers.