Duquesne clinches fifth consecutive MAAC title
Greg Gattuso leaned back in a chair and pondered the outcome of Saturday's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Football League game at Rooney Field. The Duquesne University coach was amazed and proud of the Dukes' 39-7 victory over winless St. Peter's, which, combined with Marist's 17-point loss to Iona, clinched Duquesne's fifth consecutive league title.
It also marked the 28th consecutive MAAC win for the Dukes, who enjoyed a 450-264 edge in total yards.
"When I told our guys we had clinched the championship, they responded like it was just another day at the office," Gattuso said. "I don't care where you play or at what level you play, winning five straight championships and 28 games in a row in your league is some accomplishment."
Duquesne (5-2, 4-0) will play host to the annual Eastern College Athletic Conference Classic on Nov. 22 against the winner of the Northeast Conference. But before that happens, the Dukes must play out the regular season, which includes three more games beginning Nov. 1 at Morehead State.
Duquesne is idle next weekend, and Gattuso said the injury-riddled Dukes could use some rest.
"My daughter's birthday party is tonight. I'm going to eat all her cake and then I'm going to lay around for the next two days and get some rest," Gattuso said. "Then, we're going to get back at it again."
At the same time, he undoubtedly was speaking for his staff and players. Duquesne has had to piece together an offensive line all season because of injuries, and the Dukes struggled early -- a point of contention with Dukes wide receiver Randy Vulakovich, a Shaler Area graduate who caught 10 passes for 111 yards and leads the team with 48 receptions.
"Historically, we're a little slow getting started," he said, "but it's something we have to stop in the next couple of weeks."
St. Peter's (0-7, 0-2), which had been outscored 111-15 in its previous two games, took a 7-0 lead just over five minutes into the game on a 2-yard run by Dan Holmes. The Peacocks led 7-6 at the end of the first quarter after Duquesne scored its first touchdown on a 3-yard run by Mike Hilliard (Homer-Center), who finished with 104 yards rushing.
Duquesne took its first and final lead with 11:13 remaining in the second quarter on a 4-yard pass from Niel Loebig (South Fayette) to Dan Jameson to make the score 13-7.
Loebig registered his third consecutive 300-yard passing game, finishing with 336 on 24-of-33 completions. He threw a total of three touchdown passes -- two to Michel Warfield, who had eight receptions for 173 yards.
"Niel just puts the ball right there for you to catch it," Warfield said.
Warfield's 24-yard touchdown reception from Loebig with 22 seconds remaining before halftime boosted the Duquesne lead to 19-7.
"Michel Warfield and Randy Vulakovich played outstanding," Gattuso said.
Warfield caught a 20-yard scoring pass from Loebig to kick off the second-half scoring and increase Duquesne's lead to 25-7. Hilliard rounded out the game's scoring with one touchdown each in the third and fourth quarters on runs of 5 and 4 yards.
"St. Peter's came out and threw a defense at us we had never seen," Gattuso said. "They weren't going to let us throw the ball to Yardon Brantley and they were not going to let Mike Hilliard run the ball. That left the other guys open."
Brantley, perhaps Duquesne's most notorious big-play receiver, finished with just 3 receptions for 9 yards. Hilliard had just 25 yards rushing in the first half.