Football drops opener at Florida State

Courtesy of Chris Leduc | Tall Timber Photography | Duquesne defensive back Ryan Webb celebrates during the team’s game against Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday. Webb had a 50-yard interception return in the game. The Edgewood, Md., native was limited to just two games during the 2021 campaign.

Russell Macias | Staff Writer

Sept. 1, 2022

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — “Make sure before you leave this field, hug a couple buddies,” said Duquesne Head Coach Jerry Schmitt. “We play together, and we stick together.”

Schmitt said this to his players following Saturday’s season-opening contest, a 47-7 loss, against Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Though a loss is a loss, Schmitt wanted his squad to cherish the opportunity presented to his team — opening the season in an Atlantic Coast Conference environment against a college football blueblood in front of over 50,000 people.

After landing in Tallahassee, Fla., on Friday, a challenge was drawing closer.

What awaited Duquesne was the program’s first meeting with an ACC school since 1950, the last year the team fielded a major-level program until 1993. The game was also the Dukes’ first against the Seminoles’ in program history.

Schmitt was well aware of the opportunity that awaited his team.

“I think the kids are extremely excited for this opportunity,” Schmitt said on Friday. “They’re super excited to open up with an opponent like this, against such a historic opponent in the ACC. It’s a dream-making moment for the boys. It’ll be very fun.”

It was a daunting challenge. While Florida State has struggled to find its footing in recent years, the program won a national title in 2013 and appeared in five-straight New Year’s Six bowl games between the 2012 and 2016 seasons.

Florida State Head Coach Mike Norvell, who’s led the Seminoles since 2020, was quick to praise the schemes developed by Mike Craig, Duquesne’s new defensive coordinator.

“They’re very multiple in their concepts,” Norvell said in a press conference in the week leading up to the game. “They’ve got a new defensive coordinator, [they’re] going to be very multiple in their approach and blitz packages.”

Duquesne lost a lot from last season’s roster and faced the challenge of finding out who fits where, an obstacle that could begin to be addressed in Saturday’s opener.

Jake Dixon (last year’s starting left tackle) signed as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers, while Roman Macek (last year’s starting left guard) signed a development contract with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

The team did return two-time All-Northeast Conference selection Maxi Hradency to its defensive line.

On the opposite side of the ball, the team lost last season’s top-five receivers, but did return Joey Isabella and Abdul Janneh, each of whom missed games in 2021 due to injury.

Rather than dismiss the losses, Schmitt showed optimism for what this year’s batch of receivers has the potential to do.

“I think we have the best depth we’ve had in a long time,” Schmitt said. “We have no go-to guy.”

After suffering an injury in the 2021 season-opening loss at TCU, quarterback Joe Mischler returned and would start Saturday’s contest against the Seminoles.

Come Saturday, Tallahassee was buzzing. By noon, a fan fest was set up and ready to go, and fans had started tailgating and counting down the hours until the scheduled 5 p.m. kickoff.

Amongst the sea of Florida State garnet and gold was some familiar blue and red. Set up on a great lawn close to where the Seminoles would walk past en route to entering the stadium was a group of Duquesne alumni, spearheaded by Craig Riner — a 1997 graduate.

The group, which consisted of roughly 35 to 40 people, consisted of alumni and friends with graduation years ranging from 1990 to 2003.

By 2:20 p.m., the Dukes had left their hotel and were on the way to the stadium. The entire way, sirens blared. Those sirens, which came from state troopers who escorted Schmitt and his team from the Tallahassee International Airport to the team hotel a day earlier, were doing it again, this time from hotel to stadium.

Walking into the stadium, Schmitt was stone-faced, but he had something he’d wished for on Friday: to have a Florida state trooper on each side of him.

He said Friday that he wanted “to be escorted — the way they would escort Bobby Bowden (Florida State head coach from 1976 to 2009), two state troopers on either side, with the big hat.”

The game’s start was delayed until 6:30 p.m. due to inclement weather in the area.

When asked about that setback postgame, Schmitt said that it wasn’t a factor.

“We were ready. We were prepared,” Schmitt said. “We just walked into a really good football team.”

Duquesne won the game’s coin toss, and deferred. Florida State started with the ball and immediately ran with high tempo, employing a no-huddle offense early on.

Less than five minutes into the game, the Seminoles were on the board thanks to a five-yard touchdown run from quarterback Jordan Travis.

By the end of the opening quarter, the Dukes found themselves in a 20-0 hole. By halftime, it was 26-0, and the game was all but out of reach.

The key catalyst for Florida State’s offensive success came from the backfield. Three running backs (Treshaun Ward, Trey Benson and Lawrance Toafili) each rushed for over 100 yards, and all six of Florida State’s touchdowns came on the ground.

Perhaps the most notable play for the Dukes came late in the third quarter, when defensive back Ryan Webb intercepted a pass from Florida State’s Tate Rodemaker and returned it 50 yards.

“Ryan Webb is a really good player for us,” Schmitt said. “He battled big receivers at TCU [in 2021] … I was very impressed then, and he’s picked up where he left off [after going down to injury].”

Just two plays later, Mischler connected with Janneh for a 22-yard touchdown, Duquesne’s only score on the evening.

In his first game in almost a year, Mischler completed seven of his 17 pass attempts for 71 yards and a touchdown.

Duquesne’s offensive line, though severely outmatched by Florida State’s defensive line, held its own. The line was praised by Schmitt postgame.

“We did some good things. We got some good cracks for Billy Lucas and DeMarcus Ware to run [through],” Schmitt said. “Without watching the film, I’m glad they did a solid job creating opportunities.”

Lucas, a Second-Team All-NEC selection in 2021, rushed for 13 yards on seven carries. Ware, a transfer from Samford, ran for 30 yards on 11 gives (longest run was for 20 yards).

Janneh led all Duquesne receivers in receptions (three) and yards (44), while also scoring the Dukes’ lone touchdown. He also got praise from Schmitt postgame.

“[Janneh] did a really good job. He was one of the bright spots of the evening,” Schmitt said. “He scored. I was happy to see him get into the end zone.”

One thing that every coach hopes to avoid is injuries, but the Dukes were not able to do so in Saturday’s loss.

Hradency and Ezekiel M. Daure both left with injuries during the game’s first half.

“Zeke’s probably going to be okay, he probably has a hip pointer, one to two weeks probably,” Schmitt said. “Maxi had to be taken to the hospital emergency room for a hit to his head.”

Since then, both players have been listed on the team’s two-deep for their upcoming game against Youngstown State Saturday at 2 p.m.

Duquesne’s trip to Stambaugh Stadium on Saturday will mark the fourth all-time meeting between the Dukes and the Penguins.

Youngstown State has won each of the prior contests by an average margin of 27 points. The last head-to-head meeting came on Sept. 14, 2019, when the Penguins were victorious by a 34-14 score.

While this was a high-caliber opportunity against a marquee program, many games versus FBS-level teams await Duquesne in the coming weeks and years.

On Sept. 17, the Dukes will travel to Honolulu to take on Hawaii (Mountain West Conference), a team that they lost to in 2018.

Duquesne will play at West Virginia (Big 12 Conference) and at Coastal Carolina (Sun Belt Conference) during the 2023 campaign.

The Dukes will also travel to Toledo (Mid-American Conference) in 2024 and Air Force (Mountain West) in 2026.