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District football Week 1 preview: Duquesne faces stiff test at South Dakota State

| Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, 7:51 p.m.
Coach Jerry Schmitt and the Dukes will face a top-10 team in Thursday's season opener.
Duquesne athletics
Coach Jerry Schmitt and the Dukes will face a top-10 team in Thursday's season opener.
Cal (Pa.) running back Nick Grissom earned first-team All-PSAC honors last season.
Cal (Pa.) athletics
Cal (Pa.) running back Nick Grissom earned first-team All-PSAC honors last season.

District football game of the week

Duquesne at South Dakota State

8 p.m. Thursday

No one can accuse the Dukes of loading up their early-season schedule with cupcakes.

Duquesne opens the year against a Jackrabbits team that is ranked sixth in the FCS preseason coaches' poll and reached the FCS quarterfinals last season.

"The advantage for us is we go compete, and our kids can see where's the bar?" Dukes coach Jerry Schmitt said. "Where do we have to get to? We aspire to develop our program to be able to compete with teams like this in the future."

Last season, Duquesne opened against Youngstown State, which won 45-10 and went on to reach the FCS national championship.

The Dukes won six of their final seven games last season to finish 8-3 and earn a share of the Northeast Conference championship. However, a loss to co-champion St. Francis (Pa.) cost Duquesne a playoff berth.

"Last year was, quite frankly, very disappointing for our kids," said Schmitt, whose team is the preseason favorites in the NEC and received votes in the STATS preseason top-25 poll. "We shared the championship. When it was all said and done, as good of a season as we had, our kids went to work and they want to get after it became that was not good enough for them. And that's a good thing to have in a program."

Duquesne brings back eight defensive starters, led by senior linebacker Nathan Stone (Greensburg Central Catholic), and the unit will have it hands full. The Jackrabbits have three players who were finalists for the Walter Payton Award as the top player in FCS last season: junior quarterback Taryn Christion, senior receiver Jake Wieneke and senior tight end Dallas Goedert.

Christion threw for 30 touchdowns last season and broke the school record with 4,049 yards of total offense. Wieneke holds the school's career records for receiving touchdowns (43) and receiving yards (4,192). Goedert had a school-record 92 receptions for 1,293 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.

Other games to watch

Ashland at IUP

7 p.m. Thursday

First-year coach Paul Tortorella and the Crimson Hawks, picked ninth in NCAA Division II in the AFCA preseason poll, open against an Eagles team ranked just outside of the top 25. … Junior quarterback Lenny Williams (Sto-Rox) is set to make his first start since hurting his knee Nov. 5 against Mercyhurst. He led the Crimson Hawks to a school-record 46.2 points and 489.6 yards per game last season.

Expectations are high for Sto-Rox product Lenny Williams and IUP this season.

Photo by Tribune-Review

 

CMU at Washington (Mo.)

11 a.m. Saturday

The final chapter of senior running back Sam Benger's record-breaking career begins with a visit to the Tartans' University Athletic Association rival. … Benger holds CMU career mark with 4,333 rushing yards and has been a Division III All-American the past two seasons. … Washington defeated the Tartans, 41-34, in overtime last season.

St. John Fisher at W&J

1 p.m. Saturday

The Presidents, who are ranked in multiple preseason polls, open against another top-25 team in the Cardinals. … W&J will break in new QB, senior Alex Rowse (Beaver), who replaces four-year standout Pete Coughlin.

Player focus

Nick Grissom, (Cal) Pa.

Senior RB

No team in Division II averaged more points than the Vulcans last season — 49.6 — and they're going to need another big season from Grissom if they want to repeat as PSAC champions.

Grissom, a Cincinnati native, ran for 1,015 yards and nine touchdowns last season and earned first-team All-PSAC honors. His rushing total was fourth in the league. His top performance came against Clarion, when he ran for a career-best 258 yards on 33 carries.

Cal, ranked eighth in the AFCA Division II preseason poll, hosts Ohio Dominican at 6 p.m. Thursday.

By the numbers

38-32-5 — All-time series between nonconference rivals Allegheny and Thiel, with the Gators holding the edge. The teams play at 7 p.m. Thursday

98 — Points scored in last season's opener between Seton Hill and Bowie State, with the Griffins winning 50-48. They meet again at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Jeff Vella is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jvella@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.

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