Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer
Even the drizzling rain and brisk temperature couldn’t contain the excitement of head coach Jerry Schmitt and his team. Following the game, the feeling of simultaneous enthusiasm and relief was palpable.
The conditions may have been miserable, but the outcome certainly was not.
Duquesne held off a late Wagner rally to win 28-24, keeping them undefeated in NEC play.
Wagner, despite its now 1-7 record, proved to be a worthy opponent. After a scoreless first 15 minutes, the Seahawks jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
Quarterback Christian Alexander-Stevens found the endzone twice via the ground, giving his team an early upper hand.
Duquesne responded quickly and effectively though, putting 28 unanswered points on the board. Of those points, 21 came from the dynamic duo of A.J. Hines and Mark Allen.
At the 1-yard line with only 2.7 seconds left in the half and his team down 14-7, Jerry Schmitt made a gutsy decision. Rather than electing to kick a field goal, he called on Hines to knot the score. Hines came through, punching it in to tie the game at 14-14.
In the second half, Allen was electric. Despite only 13 carries in the whole game, the Penn State transfer made his presence known with two touchdowns. The first came on a 2-yard run to give the Dukes a 21-14 lead. Later, he returned a punt 65 yards extend the margin to 14 points.
Schmitt was pleased with the performance of his backs, saying, “We needed both of them.”
Despite Duquesne’s offensive burst, Wagner staged a near-comeback in the fourth quarter. A third Alexander-Stevens rushing touchdown made it 28-21. A field goal soon after brought the Seahawks within four.
Nonetheless, as the clock dwindled, Duquesne found itself in control. With mere minutes left, the Dukes had possession.
Hines picked up a crucial first down with just over two minutes left. Wagner was out of timeouts and victory appeared certain. On the very next play, however, as the Dukes looked to run out the clock, Hines fumbled the ball. Seahawks defensive back Javeon Ensley recovered it, putting a Duquesne win in jeopardy.
A personal foul penalty was also called against the Dukes, putting Wagner in prime position at the Duquesne 33-yard line. But the defense stepped up. After an incomplete pass, Wagner attempted another.
The Dukes pressured Alexander-Stevens. The quarterback tried to get a pass off but was hit as he threw. The ball bounced off a defender and into the hands of a diving Mason Williams.
With that, the outcome was sealed. The win was crucial to the Dukes’ NEC Championship hopes.
Central Connecticut State and Robert Morris, currently tied with Duquesne in the standings, both won Saturday. This win allows the Dukes to keep pace with both conference foes.
Schmitt said his team focuses on one game at a time, but added, “I think our guys… understand what the situation is across the conference.”
While critical for its playoff hopes, the victory also marked record achievements for Hines and Schmitt. With his rushing touchdown, Hines became Duquesne’s all-time leader in that category.
Schmitt, meanwhile, tied Greg Gattuso for winningest coach in program history. When asked about his record, Schmitt admitted he wasn’t even aware of it until Gattuso himself visited on Friday.
Schmitt was quick to give credit to his team for the accomplishment, saying “…it means he [Gattuso] and I had a lot of great players.”
He’ll be looking to become the outright leader Nov. 2 as the Saint Francis Red Flash visit the Bluff.
The Dukes will be seeking their fourth consecutive win, and their third straight against SFU. Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 12 p.m.