Sean O’Donnell | Staff Writer
Nov. 10, 2022
A 4th-and-1 defensive stop propelled the Duquesne football team to a 35-28, overtime victory over Sacred Heart at Rooney Field on Saturday afternoon.
The Dukes moved to 3-6 (2-3 in Northeast Conference play) with the win, while the Pioneers dropped to 4-5 (also 2-3 in NEC action).
Duquesne led 28-21 late into the fourth quarter, but a 14-yard touchdown connection between Sacred Heart quarterback Marquez McCray and wide receiver Kenneth Womack evened the game at 28 with 1:22 remaining.
On the ensuing drive, Duquesne quarterback Joe Mischler found Joey Isabella for a 37-yard gain, but Isabella fumbled and gave the ball back to Sacred Heart with 16 seconds left. The Pioneers were unable to score, and the game went to overtime.
In overtime, Duquesne running back Billy Lucas took over. He accounted for all 25 yards (20 rushing, five receiving), including an eight-yard rushing score. The corresponding extra point helped the Dukes claim a 35-28 lead.
Lucas ran for a game-high 170 yards and two touchdowns. It marked the second time this season where Lucas eclipsed 100 rushing yards, as he ran for 136 yards in a Sept. 10 victory over Thomas More.
“Our O-line did a great job creating some creases for Billy and DeMarcus [Ware],” Mischler said.
Sacred Heart, with its back against the wall, got to 4th-and-1 from the Duquesne 16-yard line on the next possession. However, the Pioneers were unable to convert, and the Dukes secured the victory.
Mischler, who finished the day with 209 passing yards and two touchdowns, found success throwing the ball to sophomore wide receiver Nick Leopold.
In the second quarter, Mischler delivered an accurate strike over the middle to hit Leopold for a 20-yard touchdown. That score, which was Leopold’s first-career touchdown, put Duquesne up 14-7.
“He’s always in the right spot,” Mischler said. “It’s like he’s reading my mind half the time.”
Leopold finished the game with three receptions for 46 yards and the touchdown.
The game was even at halftime, as McCray threw a 15-yard touchdown to Rob DiNota with just 1:13 to go in the second quarter.
The short score was set up by a 39-yard reception from Womack earlier in the drive. Womack posted game highs in both catches (eight) and receiving yards (123).
The Dukes’ defense came out much more aggressive in the second half, blitzing Sacred Heart on the first play, resulting in a sack from defensive back Jeremiah Josephs.
“Come at them and be aggressive,” Duquesne linebacker Todd Hill said of the mindset coming into the second half. “We’ve been playing [Sacred Heart] since my freshman year, and it’s always been a good fighting game.”
Hill was an anchor for Duquesne’s defense, finishing the game with nine tackles (2.5 for a loss).
It was a back-and-forth contest the rest of the way. Mischler floated a ball deep along the right sideline to hit Isabella in stride for a 26-yard gain on Duquesne’s next drive, setting up a 1-yard touchdown pass from Mischler to tight end Logan Lutz.
Sacred Heart then brought in Rob McCoy at quarterback temporarily. In the first drive with McCoy’s mobile legs, he ran for a 46-yard touchdown to even the score at 21.
Mischler ran for a 3-yard score of his own, which helped Duquesne hold the lead for much of the game’s final quarter until the aforementioned late connection between McCray and Womack.
The win over the Pioneers snapped a brief two-game losing streak for Duquesne against Sacred Heart.
“Everybody just kept believing,” Mischler said. “We played really hard, and I think that’s why we pulled it out today.”
The Dukes will be back in action on Saturday, when they make the brief trip to Loretto, Pa., to battle St. Francis (Pa.). The Red Flash have won seven-straight games, with their two losses coming in the season’s first two weeks against Akron (FBS) and Richmond (currently ranked No. 12 in FCS).