Football wins home opener against Dayton

Claire Murray | Photo Editor

Claire Murray | Photo Editor

Rich Donahue | The Duquesne Duke

On the heels of back-to-back losses to begin the season, the Dukes were looking for answers heading into their home opener with the Dayton Flyers. After finishing the 2013 season unbeaten at Rooney Field, the Dukes (1-2) grounded the visiting Flyers (1-1) 33-13 to keep the streak alive.

The Dukes began their season on the road against the Buffalo Bulls and Youngstown State Penguins. Against Buffalo, who plays in the Mid-American Conference of the Football Bowl Series, the Dukes fought back after trailing by three touchdowns early in the game. Duquesne led for a portion of the second half until Buffalo retook the lead and the game 38-28. It was the same story last week against the Penguins. The Penguins defeated the Dukes 35-23 despite a second half surge from the Red & Blue.

Coach Jerry Schmitt stated the team learned to play on an elite level during those games.

“I think it forced us to play at a high level from the outset every single play,” Schmitt said. “We learned in those games that when we settle down and just do our job we have some talent on our football team and were able to utilize it.”

One Duke who lived up to that mantra was sophomore quarterback Dillon Buechel. Entering his second season as the Dukes signal caller, Buechel began the day with the fourth most passing yards in the Football Championship Series with 679 and five touchdowns. But the Dukes didn’t need Buechel’s arm to stay in the game this week, though he still managed to throw for 218 yards and one touchdown.

He credited the defense for his deflated numbers.

“The last few games teams jumped out on us and we had to go to the air,” Buechel said. “Today we had an early lead and the defense and special teams were able to do some nice things. It didn’t really dictate that we had to throw the ball a lot today.”

Senior running back Ryan Ho scored the game’s first touchdown early in the second quarter on a 2-yard run. He finished the game with 26 yards on 11 carries.

Sophomore kicker Austin Crimmins’ extra point was blocked by the Flyers, making it 9-3 in favor of the Dukes.

Midway through the second quarter, the Flyers were driving deep in Duquesne territory after Buechel threw a costly interception. On a big third down play, sophomore cornerback Malik Shegog came within inches of an interception on a comeback route but allowed a first down instead. Dayton’s quarterback Will Bardo tested Shegog a few plays later.

Shegog didn’t miss this time, picking off Bardo’s pass and returning it 75 yards for the Dukes’ first defensive touchdown of the season. Shegog’s interception and return gave the Dukes a 16-6 lead. The interception was one of three on the day for the Red & Blue, which Shegog said is a motivator for the defense.

“That’s our motto. We got to get to the ball, 11 players to the ball,” Shegog said.

He earned NEC Rookie of the Week for his performance.

Senior wide receiver Devin Rahming added his own ingredients to the mix, returning a Dayton punt 84 yards to the house for a touchdown to give the Dukes a 23-6 lead with four minutes to go in the second quarter. On the return, Rahming broke his own school record which he set last year with a 64-yard return against Wagner. He was awarded NEC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Schmitt said both of those plays swung the momentum of the game.

“There is no doubt both of those were huge,” Schmitt said. “Dayton is a well-coached football team and they don’t make mistakes like that. Those are two touchdowns they don’t usually give up.”

Down 17 at the half, Dayton made a switch at quarterback. Surprisingly, the Flyers were able to score on their opening drive, cutting the score to 23-13. Despite the glimmer of hope for Flyers, the Red & Blue were able to double their lead to 20 on a 58-yard touchdown pass from Buechel to Noel Oduho and 33-yard field goal by Crimmins in the third quarter.

The Dukes will play Monmouth next week at home at 12 p.m. They defeated Monmouth 33-23 on the road to close out last season.

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