Jack Morgan | Staff Writer
Sept. 15, 2022
Despite the game being scoreless at the end of the first quarter, the Duquesne football team took control in the game’s final three quarters, defeating Thomas More 34-14 in the team’s home opener at Rooney Field on Saturday afternoon.
Before the game, Duquesne honored late Head Coach Dan McCann, who died in May at the age of 88. McCann played a key role in helping to rebuild the program in the late 1960s and eventually moving the program from club level to NCAA Division III.
The Dukes got the ball to begin the game, and they made an immediate impact. On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Joe Mischler connected with Dwayne Menders on a screen pass for a catch and run of 47 yards. However, the drive stalled inside the Thomas More 5-yard line, and Duquesne kicker Brian Bruzdewicz missed a 20-yard field goal.
Near the end of the opening quarter, Billy Lucas found himself in the end zone, but the touchdown was called back due to a holding penalty. Two plays later, Mischler would be intercepted by the Saints’ Del Thomas.
Duquesne was able to sustain momentum on the defensive side of the ball in the first half, recording three sacks.
The Dukes finally broke the scoreless tie more than halfway through the second quarter. Three rushes of a combined 27 yards from Billy Lucas got them out of dangerous territory and put them at their own 32-yard line.
Two plays later, Menders broke free off a checkdown pass from Mischler and sprinted 67 yards to the end zone for his first touchdown at Duquesne after spending all of his collegiate career prior to this year at Marist. Menders finished the day with game-highs in both receptions (eight) and receiving yards (165).
After the defense got Thomas More off the field quickly, the offense went back to work at its own 36-yard line. Six plays later, the Dukes were on the board once again thanks to a 19-yard touchdown run from Lucas.
Lucas, who added a second touchdown later in the contest, ran for an average of 7.2 yards/carry (136 yards on 19 carries) in the win. He attributed his success to the team’s offensive line, saying that they “played really well and executed what we had to come out with.”
Following an interception of Thomas More quarterback Blaine Espinosa with 17 seconds to go before halftime, the Dukes ran two plays and got into field goal range. Bruzdewicz was good from 37 yards out, and Duquesne took a 17-0 lead into the locker room.
After the teams exchanged touchdowns, the Dukes still held a 17-point lead early in the fourth quarter. When Duquesne took the field for its first drive of the final quarter, Mischler was relieved by Darius Perrantes. Mischler finished his day completing 18 of 23 passes for 241 yards.
Bruzdewicz kicked his second field goal of the day to push the Dukes’ lead to 20 points with just under eight minutes left in the game. The two teams would again exchange touchdowns, and the Dukes were able to cap off their 15th-straight victory in a home opener. Duquesne has not lost a home opener since 2007, when the program lost to Bucknell.
Jerry Schmitt saw a trend heading into the game that created a game plan that heavily focused on running the ball.
“They weren’t always dropping enough guys into the box, and they were going to continue to do that,” Schmitt said. “We could run the football and even when they did, our receivers did a good job getting on. That helped us get our running game going.”
After taking on an FBS opponent in the season’s opening week, the Dukes will get another crack this weekend. Duquesne will travel to Honolulu to take on Hawaii for the second time in five seasons.
In 2018, the Dukes were able to get out to a 14-0 lead on the Rainbow Warriors. However, Hawaii stormed back and won by a 42-21 tally. So far this season, Hawaii is 0-3 and has lost by an average of 43.7 points/game.
For many guys on the team, this will be more than just a football trip.
“I [have] never been [anywhere] like that,” Lucas said. “Football is always taking [up] most of your time trying to travel. So, going somewhere like that is going to be great. I can’t wait.”