PITTSBURGH — Duquesne sophomore wide receiver Davie Henderson will never forget his first career touchdown catch.
Duquesne senior quarterback Daniel Parr was looking for fellow senior Kellon Taylor on a third-and-10 and the pass deflected off of his hands and also fell off a Walsh defender’s hands before Henderson reached down to make a one-handed catch. Rooney Field exploded as Henderson got into the end zone for a Duquesne touchdown.
“Really I ran the wrong route, but I saw the ball, reached out and it just fell in my hands,” he said. “I was supposed to be in the flat but I just found the ball and kept running.”
Haven’t seen one of these in awhile pic.twitter.com/Z55E52ZVgI
— Ralph S. Ventre (@NECralph) September 8, 2019
For his part, Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt was having a whole other reaction trying to find and chew out his offensive staff, but the touchdown on a “trick play” made the conversation lighter.
“You know me, I was on my offensive staff ‘we come out two series, gain no yards except for the trick play you guys put in where we tipped it to a guy,” said Schmitt. “I’m happy for Davie. He is a young talented guy for us.”
Taylor meanwhile dropped the pass because he had two cramps in his quad, but the play certainly all worked out.
“I guess it worked out for the best, I look up and heard the crowd screaming,” he said. “I ran to the end zone to celebrate with my teammate.”
Looking to follow up its fifth NEC title, the Duquesne football team did not face much difficulty when it came to Walsh winning 44-3 Saturday afternoon at Rooney Field in front of 2,257 fans.
Duquesne (1-0) had 462 total yards while holding Walsh to 73. The Dukes have now won 12 consecutive home openers and continues its 2019 season next Saturday at Youngstown State. The Penguins own a 3-0 series advantage, though these two teams have not played since 2016.
IT’S ABOUT TIME
It was a longer than usual wait for Saturday’s home opener as Duquesne was one of the last teams to officially take the field.
Schmitt could sense that there was some frustration and did what he could to shorten practices.
“Guys were chomping at the bit all week,” he said. “I shortened the practices because I was woofing on them all week to get going and moving. They just were tired of hitting each other.”
Duquesne quickly took that frustration out on Walsh and immediately created a defensive identity when senior cornerback Reid Harrison-Ducros laid a heavy hit on Walsh junior running back Koby Adu-Poku, making him pay for a 15-yard reception.
Walsh got the first down on that play but it very much was a message sent to the opponent which went three-and-out immediately after and surrendered the football.
On the next Walsh possession, the Cavaliers were poised to start driving when Duquesne’s Brendan Thompson forced a fumble that he recovered, setting the Dukes up with a short field.
Later on, Walsh quarterback Nick Gassman thought he had a receiver get a step on junior defensive back Spencer DeMedal but the ball was underthrown and the pass intercepted.
“The receiver did have me beat a little bit, it was a nice route,” said DeMedal. “Playing man-to-man, you’re never really beat until the ball is caught, so I ran underneath him, made the play and I hope it gave the defense some energy.”
Assessing the effort Schmitt was pleased that his team finished plays and was happy that the effort was present.
“Guys rallied to the ball,” he said. “Anytime their running back got a little crease, our speed caught up right away.”
OLDER AND NEW
One definite benefit to a game such as this is the ability to bring reserves in.
Fans still saw plenty of All-American senior running back A.J. Hines, who started his senior campaign with two touchdowns, the second of which, a 57 yard run where he broke a tackle at the tail end of the effort. He ended up with 102 yards on the game.
It was plenty for Schmitt too who wanted to see some explosion that is hard to simulate in practice. Hines was held to two carries in the second half.
Parr was another case as he played three quarters before being replaced by fellow senior Brett Brumbaugh. Parr completed 13-of-21 passes for two touchdowns and threw an interception which slipped off a Duquesne receiver’s hands.
This Daniel Parr was a different version of the 2018 quarterback fans saw as last year provided more of a rushing-first quarterback. Parr had three rushes Saturday.
“I thought Daniel looked really comfortable,” Schmitt said. “I felt that he is getting more and more comfortable staying in the pocket. He’s got more reps and we’re forcing him in practice to do some things that maybe he did not do. If we get that combination going, he’s going to have a good year.”
In addition to Brumbaugh getting some playing time, freshman quarterback Bruce Veasley got to play at game’s end, Kevin Lenz made his first catch (a 72-yard grab), Dominic Thieman recorded his first career touchdown and DeWayne Murray III did the same.
“It is very nice to see some of these younger guys and get them on tape,” said Schmitt. “They’re going to have to play through the season. It’s a long season, so to get them acclimated to the college game. I thought it was a very good afternoon at Rooney Field.”
TAYLOR’S FOCUS ON FOOTBALL PAYING OFF
While a lot of new faces were on the field getting some snaps in, many of the veteran players were there encouraging teammates.
Senior wide receiver Kellon Taylor has taken on more of a leadership role this season and was routinely one of the first players to embrace a teammate after a good play.
“That definitely is of great importance to me this year,” he said. “My whole mindset going into the season was just to be a team leader, making sure my team is together and come out with the mindset that we are a national championship team,” said Taylor.
In January, Taylor made the decision to focus on football. He previously also played for the men’s basketball team.
Since that decision, Taylor has done just that, focused on football and it seems to be paying dividends.
“I think me focusing on one sport to really work on my craft,” Taylor said. “Playing football and basketball was probably one of the greatest experiences that I had. Buckling down and really focusing on football has helped me out a lot. I’ve worked on my route running, film room, I’ve gotten faster, lighter. I think it is an advantage for me just playing one sport.”
Already Taylor had talked to a couple of scouts, and some have come to watch him play. Still Taylor states he is trying to stay humble and be a leader for this team.
Duquesne will have a tough test when it travels to face Youngstown State next Saturday afternoon. The Penguins own a 3-0 series lead, though the two squads have not played each other since 2016.
“They are a big-time perennial top-10 team in the FCS,” Schmitt said. “Last time we played them, they went to the national championship game. I am expecting the same. We’ve got to play our best, but we’re going to have fun when we go up there.”