Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer
On Aug. 25, the Duquesne football team traveled to Amherst, Massachusetts, to begin its regular season against the Massachusetts Minutemen. The 5:35 p.m. ET kickoff signaled the official return of Division I college football across the country.
The game also marked only the second time in Duquesne program history that the Dukes have faced a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponent. However, whereas the Dukes’ first matchup against an FBS opponent — versus Buffalo in 2014 — was closely contested (Duquesne lost, 38-28), this one was undeniably lopsided.
Despite some flashes from offensive stars A.J. Hines and Nehari Crawford, Duquesne was overwhelmed by the Minutemen from the beginning of the game.
Less than 10 minutes into the first quarter, UMass had already posted three touchdowns, seizing a commanding 21-0 lead.
Junior Dukes kicker Mitch Maczura connected on his first career field goal with around one minute remaining in the first quarter, nailing a 32-yard attempt.
From there, the Minutemen kept piling it on, possessing a 35-3 lead with minutes to go until halftime.
Duquesne did manage to score a touchdown just before the break, as transfer quarterback Daniel Parr connected with Crawford through the air for a 5-yard touchdown reception with seconds remaining in the game’s first half. After a failed two-point conversion, the Minutemen took a 35-9 lead into the break.
Hines ran for 52 yards on five attempts on the Dukes’ scoring drive.
The second half was more of the same, as the Minutemen reached the end zone four more times.
Early in the fourth quarter, Parr was able to use his mobility to rush into the end zone from the two-yard line, scoring the second Duquesne touchdown of the day.
Unfortunately for the Dukes, they were unable to put up any points after that, and UMass took the game handily, 63-15.
Much of Massachusetts’ dominance can be attributed to the impressive depth of its team, particularly on offense. The Minutemen had two quarterbacks throw a touchdown, including star Andrew Ford, two halfbacks run for touchdowns, and three different wideouts receive a touchdown pass.
UMass was propelled in particular by its senior leaders, quarterbacks Ford and Ross Comis, as well as by wide receiver Andy Isabella.
Ford and Comis combined for nearly 300 passing yards and four touchdowns, while Isabella, meanwhile, was a Swiss Army knife of sorts for his team. The veteran wideout had five receptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns, while also scoring a 14-yard rushing touchdown on his only carry of the game.
Simply put, Duquesne had no answer for the plethora of weapons UMass employed on offense. Even so, a couple of Dukes still had some solid performances of their own, as well.
Crawford reeled in five catches for 59 total yards and one touchdown. Hines also played well, racking up 57 yards on just nine carries.
Behind center, Parr showed some promise, completing 16 of 29 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown. However, he did throw three interceptions.
Parr, a transfer from FBS school Florida Atlantic, beat out junior Duquesne quarterback Brett Brumbaugh for the starting job versus UMass. In the days before Duquesne’s opening game, the team’s starting quarterback was still unclear, but Parr got the nod against the Minutemen.
“They’re both competing hard,” Head Coach Jerry Schmitt said last week, days before the UMass game. “We’ll make a decision here and then go with one to start.”
Other offensive contributors included Kellon Taylor and Kareem Coles, who recorded 25 and 23 receiving yards on the evening, respectively. Freshman running back Ky’ren Cunningham recorded 46 rushing yards on 10 carries in his debut.
On the defensive side of the ball, sophomore safety Spencer DeMedal finished with a team-high nine tackles (four solo). Senior safety Brandon Stanback and junior cornerback Reid Harrison-Ducros finished the game with six tackles each.
It was a frustrating start to the season for Duquesne, but there is certainly reason for optimism. Crawford and Hines performed well against the FBS competition, and Parr will likely improve as he becomes better acclimated with his new team.
With elite talent and experienced starters returning, the Dukes figure to be in contention for another Northeast Conference title this year. The league’s coaches picked Duquesne to finish second in the NEC’s Preseason Poll, with reigning champion Central Connecticut State securing the poll’s top spot.
What should also benefit the team is a return to the friendly confines of the Bluff, which will come in the form of a Sept. 1 showdown with the Lock Haven (D-II PSAC) Bald Eagles at Arthur J. Rooney Athletic Field at 2 p.m.