Russell Macias | Staff Writer
Nov. 17, 2022
On a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon in Loretto, Pa., the Duquesne football team fell to 3-7 after a 51-14 loss to St. Francis (Pa.), securing its first season with seven or more losses since 2009.
It’s the program’s worst season since 2014, when the team went 6-6.
Injuries have plagued Duquesne all season, but the team has tried to persevere.
“They’re fighting, playing hard, down a number of guys,” Head Coach Jerry Schmitt said after Tuesday’s practice in the snow. “It’s disappointing. Even last game, in a six-play period to start the third quarter, we had three starters go out. CJ Barnes, Jeremiah Josephs and Ayden Garnes.
“For the most part, they’re playing really hard. They’ve been able to make opponents really struggle to run the ball.”
The Dukes started strong Saturday, forcing a pair of punts on the Red Flash’s first two possessions. During that second punt, however, Dwayne Menders Jr. muffed the kick, and Saint Francis recovered in Duquesne territory, eventually kicking a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Duquesne’s offense was out of sync the entire game. Schmitt attributed this lack of harmony to injuries.
“Joe [Mischler] didn’t practice last week, obviously Abdul [Janneh] was hurt and didn’t practice all week, Dwayne [Menders] is hobbling around,” Schmitt said.
By the end of the first quarter, it was 16-0 Red Flash. For Saint Francis, this is business as usual. Aside from the team’s 17-13 win against Stonehill, the average margin of victory in Northeast Conference games is 32.6. They’re not just beating teams, they’re eviscerating them.
They’ve received the conference’s automatic bid for the FCS Playoffs and will play for the conference title next week against Merrimack (which is ineligible for postseason competition until 2023 due to NCAA transition rules).
By halftime, the Red Flash had stretched their lead to 30-0. Before a last-minute drive saw the Dukes add three first downs, they had only put up four in the entire half.
One silver lining in the Dukes’ loss was that they were the first team to hold Saint Francis below 100 rushing yards this season, keeping them to 2.8 yards per carry.
Todd Hill, tied for seventh in the nation in sacks, was a key part of the run stoppage.
“It feels really good [to stop the run],” Hill said. “I love all our big guys up front. We’re all together. It’s a real brotherly bond. We do everything together.
“We make certain plays and tackles, and it’s all down to standing together. It’s big in the brotherhood, and the non-stop work ethic.”
That togetherness could be pivotal for the Dukes moving forward. Hill, a junior who was Second Team All-NEC on defense a season ago, is seen as a key part of that leadership group as the Dukes begin the turn toward the offseason. However, he doesn’t really see himself as someone who tries to be a leader.
“I really don’t pay attention to certain stuff, I don’t try to be a role model,” Hill said. “I just do. I follow the book, be perfect, whatever I do. I guess people think I do a great job at it.”
Hill also emphasized the importance of growth and learning, mentioning how all but two of Duquesne’s seven losses so far this year were one-possession games at some point during the fourth quarter.
One of the losses that wasn’t a one-possession contest came against Florida State, currently a top-25 FBS team, in the season’s first week.
“We have a lot of potential, we all see it,” Hill said. “I want to learn from everything this year. Coaches have been a huge support with everything that’s gone on.”
The Dukes have one contest left on the 2022 schedule, as they’ll host Wagner at Rooney Field this Saturday.
Schmitt wants to see bigger offensive plays. He also wants to see the same level of fight within his team one last time.
“We do it the same way, it’s the biggest game of the year for us,” Schmitt said. “We’re going to focus like we’re playing for the championship. I want to continue to see improvement, and I think we’ve done that.”