PITTSBURGH — The homecoming crowd at Rooney Field had to hold their breathe, but the Duquesne Dukes found a way to give their alumni a win. Duquesne defeated Wagner 28-24 thanks to a last-minute interception by cornerback Mason Williams that pushed the Dukes to 5-2 on the season, 3-0 in the NEC.
Up 28-24, the Dukes had the ball and were a first down away from kneeling out the game. An A.J. Hines fumble, followed by a personal foul set Wagner up in scoring position at the Dukes 36 yard line. However, a Christian Alexander-Stevens pass was tipped into the air, and Williams came down with a huge play to save the game.
“Our coaches do a great job of making sure we stay focused in the game,” noted Williams. “We never are worried about the score, and are just playing the next play. Coach (Dave Opfar) had a great scheme on that last drive, and they put us in good position to win.”
The Dukes had their backs against the wall in multiple spots in this game and responded at every turn. A slow start dug them a 14-0 hole, as Alexander-Stevens had two touchdown rushes, and 57 rushing yards in the first half. Alexander-Stevens had four yards the rest of the way and the Dukes responded on offense by scoring 28 unanswered to take a 28-14 lead. While the lead was pushed to the edge, the Dukes held onto it for the rest of the game.
“It showed a lot of character,” head coach Jerry Schmitt noted of the win. “I don’t like the way we got into those spots, but we handled ourselves and made some plays. I told them I was proud of them.”
The Dukes committed to the run, despite trailing by 14, which helped inspire the comeback. Duquesne finished the game with 50 rushes for 218 yards as a team. Hines led the way on the teams first touchdown drive in the second quarter, and finished the second scoring drive with a touchdown. Hines finished the day with 26 rushes for 114 yards.
However, the compliment of Mark Allen was what put this attack over the top. Allen added 77 yards on 13 carries, but his punt return for a touchdown was his biggest play, which gave the Dukes a 21-14 lead that they did not look back from.
“Allen gives us a lot of burst,” added Schmitt “Hines had one of his best days running down hill this season. The combination of those two keeps us fresh for four quarters.”
It took a defensive stop, and adjustments down 14-0. It took an offense coming back from a hole and sticking to their identity. It even took a special teams return. This game tested the Dukes resolve, and they responded in all areas to pull out a tight, team win.
NOTES FROM THE BLUFF
The win was a historic day for both Hines and Schmitt. A second quarter rushing touchdown by Hines gave him the school record for career rushing touchdowns. Schmitt also tied the school record for wins in Duquesne football history with 97 wins. Schmitt tied Greg Gattuso as the all-time winningest coach in program history.
While both were great individual signature moments, all of the talk post-game was about a team win.
“Neither of them mentioned it,” noted Williams.
“All that means is that I was able to coach a lot of great players in my time,” added Schmitt. “It is all about the players, and our staff. We have put together great staffs.
Schmitt will look to pass Gattuso in the school record books next week, when the Dukes host St. Francis at noon.