Robert Morris, Duquesne renew their football rivalry in key conference game
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Although he played his high school football about 20 miles from Robert Morris' campus in Moon, Duquesne linebacker Christian Kuntz didn't hear from the Colonials during his recruiting process.
He suspects he isn't the only player with a similar story on either the Dukes' or Colonials' roster.
“It kind of creates a little tension there that just makes this game a little special,” Kuntz, a redshirt junior from Chartiers Valley, said. “It's a crosstown rival, and no one wants to lose.”
Duquesne and Robert Morris will renew their rivalry Saturday night in a game that has all the usual on the line: a Northeast Conference victory and city bragging rights.
“It's not going to make our season if we win or lose against them, but it sure would be nice if we could come out of there with a win,” Robert Morris coach John Banaszak said. “I'm sure they feel the same way.”
Unlike last season, when the Dukes and Colonials met at the end of the year with both teams out of the running for the conference title, this year's game carries some extra meaning.
Duquesne (4-3, 1-1) and Robert Morris (2-4, 1-1) are in a four-way tie for third place in the NEC, a half-game behind Sacred Heart and St. Francis (Pa.). With no team looking like a runaway, a victory could prove pivotal for the Dukes and Colonials.
“We know this conference from the past couple years, there's not been an undefeated conference champion,” Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt said. “It's so balanced across the board. It's just constant. Every week is a battle.”
Schmitt expects nothing different Saturday.
The matchups between Duquesne and Robert Morris each of the past three seasons featured low-scoring, defensive games. The Dukes blanked the Colonials, 22-0, last season after winning 21-20 the year before.
“They're a tough team. Every year they are,” Kuntz said. “They're going to grind it out till the end, so we've got to be ready for their toughness and how disciplined they are.”
After finishing 1-10 last season, Banaszak's first as coach, Robert Morris is showing improvement. The Colonials rank second in the conference in total defense after finishing last in that category last season, but they lost by three points to Dayton and in overtime to Youngstown State.
“In our eyes, we should be 5-1,” linebacker Mike Stojkovic said. “South Dakota State was probably the only team that outplayed us, and the other games we lost was more of what we didn't do or us not doing our jobs and hurting ourselves to where they capitalized on them.”
An inconsistent offense is hurting Robert Morris. Because of injuries, four quarterbacks — including three freshmen — have started. Although the ground game is showing improvement, the Colonials still rank last in the NEC in total offense. Their two touchdowns in their most recent game, a 26-13 loss to Sacred Heart, came on interception and kick returns.
Duquesne is dealing with its own injuries and inconsistency. Schmitt said mistakes — dropped passes, penalties and missed field goals — cost the Dukes in a 38-17 loss at Bryant last week.
“A bunch of goofy things happened,” Schmitt said. “I felt we got our pocket picked after the game instead of getting mugged and beat up and our wallet taken from us.”
Schmitt said Saturday's game could come down to turnovers and field position, particularly if there's inclement weather. Banaszak said Robert Morris will need to slow Duquesne quarterback Dillon Buechel (Montour) and playmaking receivers Chris King and Wayne Capers (Chartiers Valley).
“It's going to be a tough, physical football game. It always is,” Banaszak said. “It's going to come down to a few plays on both sides of the football.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.