It's win and in for Duquesne football
The Northeast Conference schedule-makers knew what they were doing.
The league title and an automatic berth in the Football Championship Subdivision will be on the line when Duquesne (7-3, 4-1) visits Central Connecticut State (6-4, 4-1) in the regular-season finale at noon Saturday.
It’s a similar scenario to last year, when the Blue Devils defeated the Dukes, 28-27, in the second-last game of the season to clinch the league title. Duquesne missed an 18-yard field goal with 2 seconds left.
Dukes coach Jerry Schmitt is happy for a do-over.
“My only hope was that we could play well enough to put us in position that this game would come down to giving us an opportunity to win a championship, and it’s played out that way, fortunately,” said Schmitt, whose team last reached the postseason in 2015.
It’s actually a three-way tie atop the conference with Sacred Heart (6-4, 4-1). The Dukes, however, own the tiebreaker after last week’s 28-24 win and are the only team that controls its destiny this weekend.
It’s been an emotional season for the Dukes. Junior Marquis Brown died Oct. 4 after falling from the 16th floor of a residence hall. Two days later, Duquesne lost 21-20 to Bryant, a game in which Schmitt said “we just weren’t right.”
The team spent the subsequent days and weeks trying to heal.
“What came from that is what we all know, but a recognition that there are more important things than football,” Schmitt said. “I think our guys grew together and bonded more through that than maybe they normally would.”
The Dukes then won four straight, with running back A.J. Hines receiving NEC Offensive Player of the Week after each game. His 213 rushing yards Saturday made it four consecutive games of more than 200 scrimmage yards. Hines ranks fourth in FCS with 133.2 rushing yards per game and is up to 1,199 and 12 touchdowns on the year.
Duquesne’s Nehari Crawford remains one the top receivers in FCS, leading the conference with 847 yards to go with nine touchdowns.
The Dukes offense ranks second in the NEC with 30.5 points per game, second to CCSU (34.1).
The Blue Devils feature a 1-2 punch at running back of Aaron Dawson (815 yards, 13 TDs) and Drew Jean-Guillaume (753 yards, seven TDs). They complement 6-foot-5 quarterback Jacob Dolegala (2,002 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, 245 rushing yards, five TDs).
“They had a lot of younger guys last year, and they’re a year older and a year better,” Schmitt said.
Jeff Vella is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.