By Joseph Sykes | Sports Editor
It’s been a tumultuous past few weeks for the Duquesne football team after it dropped two back-to-back games to Albany and Dayton on the road. Despite those stumbling blocks, the Dukes found a way to regroup this past Saturday with a decisive 27-10 win over the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils. With the victory, the team is now 7-1 all-time in Northeastern Conference openers and holds a 2-2 overall record in 2015. Only the Dukes and the Robert Morris Colonials are 1-0 in the NEC.
The team credits its success to a plethora of exceptional players. One such player was senior running back Klartel Claridy, who tallied a career-high 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Rafiq Douglas had a stellar performance as well, notching a career-high 83 rushing yards and one TD. In total, Duquesne racked up 524 total yards of offense.
The Dukes and Blue Devils were locked in a heated battle throughout the first half, with the Red & Blue finding the back of the endzone first. It was Claridy’s first touchdown that gave his team an early 7-0 lead, but it was his second score that put the Dukes up 14-0 with less than five minutes left in the opening quarter.
Central Connecticut narrowed the lead at the end of the first after running a triple-reverse flea flicker, which completely threw Duquesne’s defense off. By the end of the first half, the score was 14-10.
To open the third quarter, Douglas scored his sole touchdown from the four-yard line. Kicker Austin Crimmins tallied the last six points with 23-yard and 30-yard field goals.
While he didn’t record a touchdown pass, or a score of any kind, quarterback Dillon Buechel was the team’s unsung hero. Buechel threw for a season-high 323 yards on 23 of 28 passing.
Buechel believes it was the Blue Devils’ over-reliance on blitzing that helped him see the field better.
“They kind of take some gambles on defense,” Buechel said. “They like to blitz a lot and put pressure on the quarterback. We had good protection and had a lot of one-on-ones on the side so we took advantage of that.”
Head coach Jerry Schmitt said the Dukes’ outstanding run game was a key contributor to the junior’s offensive success.
“I think when we were able to run the ball effectively, that allowed [Buechel] to find some lanes and find some one-on-one matchups,” Schmitt said. “Dillon managed the game great today. He’s back to his old self. Two weeks ago he struggled, but today he got back in his rhythm.”
Buechel also had the likes of receivers Chris King and Reggie McKnight to help him. King knotted his second straight 100-plus yard game with 132 total. McKnight wasn’t close to posting those kinds of numbers, but was able to make key catches on each of the Dukes’ scoring drives.
“It makes your job at quarterback so much easier when you have guys like them out there,” Buechel said.
The Dukes can let this win soak in, but they have to get back to work this Saturday when they host the Alderson Broaddus Battlers for the annual Homecoming game. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.