The Duquesne Dukes will host Senior Day for the graduating players this Saturday against the Sacred Heart Pioneers. It will be an excellent opportunity for fans, family and friends to watch this group of players take the field at home for the last time. However, while the sentiments of the game do have some meaning for these players, the game in itself has huge implications as well.
Duquesne comes into the game 3-1 in Northeast Conference play. However, they are tied with Central Connecticut State and look up at Sacred Heart, who is 4-0 so far in the NEC. The Dukes host Sacred Heart at home on Saturday and travel to CCSU the following week. They control their own destiny as far as the conference goes and that starts on Senior Day.
The events before the game certainly will be a memorable time. Head coach Jerry Schmitt, who will be going through his 13th senior class on Saturday knows that it is always a bittersweet day for his players.
“It’s tough on them because they had a really good career,” Schmitt said of the 2018 Seniors. “They’ve had a couple of setbacks, they’ve won rings, played for a championship, came close. Through it all, they’ve stuck together all these years. It is tough when it is starting to sink that their football career will come to an end soon.”
However, Schmitt knows that this class has been through so much that they will be ready to bring their best effort to the field despite the emotions.
“This is an excitable team,” added Schmitt. “They have fun playing. I don’t think anything bothers them. We got down to St. Francis and Wagner on the road, and it didn’t bother them. It’s a different group; they have fun with each other. I’m not worried about them.”
Schmitt is going to need a dialed in group to hang punch for punch with the Pioneers, who have discovered some lightning with their offense this season. Sacred Heart has the top rushing offense in the NEC and the second overall offense in the conference. They are moving the ball at will, which has helped in their three-game winning streak.
The Sacred Heart rushing attack can hit you from a variety of areas. They have two running backs averaging over 5.8 yards per carry. Senior Jordan Meachum leads the way with 1,107 yards with freshman Julian Chestnut behind putting up 562 yards on 97 carries.
However, what makes this such a versatile group is the added factor of a quarterback who can take off. Grad transfer Kevin Duke has 408 yards on the ground, 5.1 yards per carry.
With so many ways to hurt you with the rushing attack, Schmitt sees one way to stuff it. Sound football.
“Any time you play a quarterback that has some quicks, it presents some problems,” admitted Schmitt. “One thing is we have been very gap sound the last couple of weeks. That will need to continue.”
Schmitt also mentioned the idea of mixing up personnel to get quick bodies in the game, as the Pioneers spread you out with their three-headed attack.
“We have to put some personnel out there where they are not the traditional running team,” Schmitt said. “We are not playing a bigger power team, so maybe some safeties might have to move to linebacker in this game.”
This makes a ton of sense considering what Duquesne has been doing in their back end. While injuries have had a bit to do with it, Leandro DeBrito, Spencer DeMedal, Brandon Stanback and Harvey Clayton Jr. have all rotated in and out of their back end. In some situations, Clayton Jr, and DeBrito have slotted into the box as the hybrid linebacker.
Last week, the team got Abner Roberts back and slotted him into the starting lineup at strong safety, next to DeMedal at free. Still, DeBrito led the team in tackles with nine last week, Stanback had two and Clayton had two as well.
The group has gotten accustomed to wearing different hats in the back end due to the health issues throughout the year. However, the Dukes are now relatively healthy in that area and now have the freedom and comfortability to stick speed like DeBrito and Clayton Jr into the box while still having back-end coverage as well.
On the other side, the Dukes will be looking to attack Sacred Heart in the same area. Sacred Heart has the top pass defense in the conference, allowing 155 yards per game through the air. To contrast that, the Dukes have been transitioning to the ground and pound approach, and A.J. Hines has gone over 100 yards in three straight games while toting the ball 27, 28, and 33 times. Last week he went for 232 yards in a comeback win. They are not going to shy away from the running game.
“It’s gonna come down to both running games,” Schmitt admitted. “Those two battles will be an interesting challenge.”
However, while the area to attack Sacred Heart is on the ground, Schmitt knows that if he can get one over the top on the stingy pass defense, that it would be the icing on the cake that they need to pull off the tough win.
While Daniel Parr has not gone over 200 yards passing in the last three games, and only went 9-15 last week, Schmitt is not worried about the attack and thinks you could see a better performance than the numbers would indicate on Saturday.
“We’ve had a really good passing game recently,” Schmitt said. “In Wagner, it was really windy; it was tough to throw the ball. Parrs progression in the passing game will give us a chance.”
We will see if the weather can call for Parr to open it up if the Dukes can control the ground attack and run the ball themselves and if they can head into Central Connecticut State next week sitting in first place in the NEC.