Brentaro Yamane | Staff Writer
Nov. 4, 2021
Since its opening in 1993, the Saint Francis (Pa.) football team had struggled considerably at Rooney Field. In ten prior trips to the stadium, the Red Flash had never won a game.
That all changed Saturday, when SFU secured a 17-10 victory over Duquesne. The loss was the second straight for the Dukes, who now fall to fourth in the Northeast Conference standings.
The Dukes had a chance to tie the game in the final minute. With 53 seconds left and Duquesne starting at its own 25-yard line, quarterback Evan Nelson threw incompletions (intended for Cyrus Holder) on both first and second down.
Nelson, who was making his first-career start for the Dukes, took a sack on third down and lost 10 yards. On fourth down, with 20 yards needed for a game-extending first down, Nelson underthrew his intended target (Davie Henderson), thus sealing the Dukes’ fate.
“Before the game, I was pretty nervous and just focusing on trusting God and trusting my teammates,” Nelson said. “After the game, there was obviously a lot of frustration. The goal was to win, and we didn’t do that. There were plays where our receivers got open and I didn’t get them the ball. Obviously that’s on me, and I have to be better.”
The Dukes took a 7-0 lead into the locker room at halftime, as Nelson and Holder connected for a 26-yard touchdown with 4:37 left in the first quarter.
The passing touchdown was the first of Nelson’s career. He completed eight of 21 passes for 85 yards in the loss. Holder’s touchdown grab was one of just two catches for him on the entire day.
SFU gained momentum at the start of the second half when the defense forced a three-and-out on the third quarter’s opening series. When the Red Flash got the ball back, a seven-play drive was capped off by a one-yard rushing touchdown from Marques DeShields. DeShields, who rushed for 55 yards on 19 carries in the win, helped SFU even the score at 7.
A 39-yard field goal from Andrew Smith at the beginning of the fourth quarter gave the Dukes a 10-7 edge. However, the Red Flash answered right back on the next offensive drive.
Quarterback Justin Sliwoski threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Kahtero Summers on a four-play drive that lasted just over a minute. The strong field position was thanks, in large part, to Sliwoski, who rushed for 61 yards on the play prior to the go-ahead score. Alex Schmoke tacked on a 22-yard field goal to give SFU some extra insurance, and Duquesne couldn’t find a way to tie the game.
Following back-to-back losses to Sacred Heart and SFU, both of those schools (in addition to Bryant) are now ahead of Duquesne in the conference standings.
Regardless, players like defensive lineman Kevin Kurzinger are going to make sure his teammates will fight to the end, as the team still has a chance for a championship.
“To be totally honest, I don’t think anything went wrong in the loss against Saint Francis. The biggest problem that we seemed to have was capitalizing on opportunities,” Kurzinger said. “This upcoming week [at Long Island] is going to be a great test of our character and drive to be the best team on the field. No matter who is in, at what position, we just have to have faith in each other. If we don’t let a bad series or play affect us and keep our energy high throughout the whole game, it will be something special to watch.”
Despite the loss, there were still some positive outcomes from Duquesne players. Late in the first quarter, defensive back Leandro DeBrito forced a fumble. On the offensive side, running back Billy Lucas rushed for a season-high 99 yards.
“I feel alright about my performance,” Lucas said. “It’s hard to feel good after a loss, but it’s something to build off of for our next game.”
Linebacker Shane Stump was also recognized as an NEC Prime Performer after recording four tackles and two sacks. Nonetheless, Stump was more focused on winning the game and is trying to be even better for next week’s contest.
“It was definitely an honor that I’m proud of, but it’s fairly bittersweet,” Stump said. “Receiving this award after a tough loss is more motivation than any to keep improving and become the best player I can be.”
Linebacker Jahan Worth is trying to put this past week’s loss in the rearview mirror and look ahead. He thinks that starts by building a better bond with his teammates.
“I think we can improve on our team chemistry, as well as paying attention to detail,” Worth said. “We have a very talented team with young guys in the mix, and if we can get everyone to come together and get on the same page, we should be in great shape.”
Offensive lineman Roman Macek believes that the connection is already very strong, and that the team can use that to its advantage.
“Our team has the strongest bond that I have ever been a part of,” Macek said. “Every one of us knows that the only thing we can do is go 1-0 each week from here on out to have a chance at a conference title. I have faith that if we all do our job collectively, we will be in a good spot at the end of the season.
“We can’t change what happened in the past, but we can turn that bitter taste in our mouths into motivation for this upcoming game.”