Pat Higgins | Asst. Sports Editor
The Dukes kicked off the 2013 season with a 35-24 victory over Albany on Saturday at Rooney Field in the team’s home opener.
After recording a safety on the first play from scrimmage, coach Jerry Schmitt started a new era of Duquesne football, handing over the reigns of the offense to freshman quarterback Dillon Buechel.
The team lost former quarterback Sean Patterson and running back Larry McCoy to graduation last May. Buechel responded to the challenge in spectacular fashion, throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns to earn co-Rookie of the Week in the Northeast Conference.
Sophomore linebacker Sam Martello earned co-Defensive Player of the Week honors after making an instant impact in tackling Albany’s Kevin Chillis in the end zone for a safety. He later forced a fumble in the third quarter that led to a touchdown strike from Buechel to junior wide receiver Gianni Carter.
Schmitt, who is entering his ninth year as head coach at Duquesne, was more impressed with the way Buechel handled himself in his first college start than the numbers that appeared in the box score after the game.
“Obviously statistically [his performance] was very good, but as you saw the poise he showed on the field and the way he managed our offense and ran the offense – he’s very intelligent,” he said. “He does the right things for us so we saw it through camp. For us, we didn’t think it was a surprise because we’ve been saying it the past couple weeks, how he earned the starting job. We’ll move forward, and hopefully he keeps doing that. There’s a great future for him.”
Junior running back Ryan Ho contributed steadily in his debut, rushing for 84 yards on 23 carries and scoring two touchdowns to help the Dukes build a 16-10 lead at halftime.
With a one-possession lead early in the second half, senior wideout Sean Brady made an unbelievable one-handed grab that appeared on ESPNU’s Top 10 College Football Plays of the Week on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Buechel. The freshman found Carter for a 29-yard touchdown just a minute later after Dorian Bell recovered a fumble deep inside Albany’s territory to give the Dukes a commanding 29-10 lead with 10 minutes to go in the third quarter.
Carter was equally as pleased with Buechel’s performance after the game.
“As a freshman, he really stepped into that role,” Carter said. “The first couple series everybody’s a little nervous, but he came in poised, he led us. That’s a testament to the coaching staff and all the hard work [in the preseason].”
Brady’s impressive leap and catch in the end zone only provided a glimpse into the impact the receiving corps had in the victory. Schmitt expressed his confidence in his wideouts after the win – Brady, Carter and sophomore Dave Thomas combined for 15 catches, 270 yards and two touchdowns on the day to make the freshman’s debut a smooth one.
“If [Buechel] gets the ball out of his hands to our receivers, we think we have pretty talented receivers. If we get the ball in their hands one on one, we think those kinds of things can happen. We’re confident he does that well, and as you see he did.”
In addition to the offensive display, the Dukes dominated on special teams and made plays on defense to preserve the victory after Albany came within 8 points with under seven minutes to go in the third quarter. Punter Aaron Fleck helped out, pinning Albany inside their own 20-yard line three times in the battle for field position.
Linebacker Dorian Bell made his presence known on the other side of the ball, while redshirt freshman linebacker Aaron Reed recorded nine tackles. The pressure allowed junior defensive back Rich Piekarski to haul in two interceptions late in the fourth to halt Albany’s comeback attempt.
“We’ve stepped up [on defense],” Schmitt said. “Dorian’s pressure in the backfield, along with [Luis] Quintana and [Dane O’Dirscoll] and those guys, they did a great job [up front], and that helps with the interceptions in the back.”
The win in the first week of the season was crucial for a young Dukes team that lost to Albany at home late last season.
“It was a great way to start the season,” said Carter. “I think everybody came out with a chip on their shoulder with Albany moving up to the [Colonial Athletic Association].”
The team will travel to Dayton University to face the Flyers on Saturday. They’ll return to action at Rooney Field on Oct. 5 against West Liberty at 12:10 p.m.