Football loses NEC opener to Stonehill

Peter Boettger | Staff Photographer | Running back Billy Lucas — seen here in Duquesne’s Sept. 10 victory against Thomas More — rushed for 88 yards on 19 carries in the Dukes’ loss to Stonehill on Saturday afternoon.

Russell Macias | Staff Writer

Oct. 6, 2022

The Duquesne football team returned from its bye week on Saturday, but fell to Stonehill 24-20, in what was each team’s Northeast Conference season opener.

For Stonehill, it was the program’s first-ever NEC win, as the Skyhawks transitioned from NCAA Division II prior to this season. Stonehill replaced Bryant, who departed from the NEC and moved to the Big South Conference.

The Dukes were pegged second in the conference’s preseason poll, receiving three first-place votes. The Skyhawks were picked to finish last.

That was all thrown out the window on Saturday, a day that, for Duquesne, was marked by frequent quarterback shuffling.

Immediately, the Skyhawks showed they wouldn’t back down, marching down the field in less than four minutes into the red zone. However, a defensive stop on 3rd-and-1 forced Stonehill to settle for a field goal, which provided an early 3-0 lead.

Starting quarterback Joe Mischler led the Dukes’ offense onto the field to open the game. A heavy dose of running back Billy Lucas was stopped at the goal line, and Duquesne also settled for a field goal, which tied the score at three.

On the following kickoff, Duquesne Head Coach Jerry Schmitt pulled a trick out of his sleeve, having kicker Brian Bruzdewicz send a pooch kick toward the sideline, where there were no Stonehill players in sight. Immediately, multiple Dukes were there as the ball dropped, and they resecured possession on Stonehill’s side of the field.

After a first drive that ate up seven minutes and put points on the board, Darius Perrantes took the field at quarterback on the next possession. Following three-straight rushes from Lucas and one from DeMarcus Ware that helped the Dukes get within the Stonehill 10-yard line, Perrantes connected with wide receiver Abdul Janneh on an eight-yard touchdown pass, and Duquesne took a 10-3 lead into the second quarter.

Instead of going to regular punter Michael Beraducci, who was active and later did punt, Bruzdewicz sent a punt that went just eight yards and gave Stonehill the ball at the 50. The Skyhawks drove five plays in just over two minutes to tie the game at 10 behind a 30-yard touchdown run from quarterback Ashur Carraha.

Mischler returned to the field on Duquesne’s next possession. Although he led the Dukes all the way to the Stonehill 25-yard line, Ware was stuffed on a 4th-and-1, giving possession back to Stonehill.

Two plays later, with under four minutes to play before halftime, Duquesne’s Ryan Webb intercepted a deep ball, giving the Dukes’ offense another chance to put points on the board before the break.

On a 4th-and-6 from the Stonehill 35-yard-line, Mischler connected with Janneh on a nine-yard completion for a first down. On the following play, he found Janneh for a 26-yard touchdown strike, putting the Dukes back in front at 17-10 heading into the locker room.

After the half, Mischler again led the team out as quarterback, but the offense was off the field after a quick three-and-out.

On a subsequent nine-play drive, Stonehill marched up the field, gaining chunk after chunk, averaging nearly 7 yards per play. The drive was punctuated by an 8-yard touchdown pass from Carraha to Will Diamantis, evening the score at 17. It was just the second passing touchdown the Dukes’ defense surrendered on the season.

When Duquesne got the ball back, the team went 18 plays and 65 yards over nearly eight minutes worth of game time, but stalled within the Stonehill 10-yard line. A 28-yard field goal from Bruzdewicz with under two minutes to go in the third quarter gave the Dukes a slight 20-17 edge.

It took less than three minutes for Stonehill to reclaim the lead, which the Skyhawks did by going five plays and 72 yards in a short span. On a 1st-and-10 from midfield, Carraha hit Jermaine Corbett in stride, and he found his way to the end zone on a 50-yard touchdown. This gave the Skyhawks their first lead since it was 3-0 in the game’s early stages.

Perrantes got the ball and the keys to the offense. After starting the second half with the lead and Mischler at the helm, Schmitt turned to Perrantes in the game’s final quarter. Aided by a 15-yard, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the Dukes were able to make it onto Stonehill’s side of the field, but were eventually forced to punt.

Stonehill got the ball back and was able to bleed some time off the clock, particularly on a 25-yard run from Corbett on a 3rd-and-23. Duquesne eventually got the ball back with just over seven minutes to play in the game.

Mischler returned to the field, but threw a deep jump ball that got intercepted by Stonehill’s Kevin Porch, ending the drive after just two plays.

After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Dukes had another shot to take the lead, this time with just over four minutes to go before the clock ran out. However, Duquesne followed with a quick three-and-out of its own, giving the ball back to Stonehill with minimal time to spare.

Duquesne was forced to use all three of its timeouts. Rather than trying a field goal to make it a seven-point game, Stonehill punted it to the Duquesne 4-yard line with just under a minute and a half to play.

Faced with the task of driving the Dukes nearly the entire length of the field, Schmitt again turned to Perrantes. On his first play deep in his own territory, Perrantes threw an interception to the Skyhawks’ Anthony LaMonica.

Stonehill was then able to set up in victory formation and secure the NEC victory, which was also its first against a Division I team this season.

Now sitting at 1-4 and 0-1 in NEC action, Duquesne will return home to take on Merrimack at Rooney Field on Saturday afternoon. The Dukes bested the Warriors 37-14 in a road contest last season.