PITTSBURGH — It is fair to say the Duquesne Dukes season did not end the way that they had planned.
Injuries piled up, none bigger than quarterback Daniel Parr, and the Dukes lost three straight games to close their season, including a 43-10 loss to Central Connecticut State that pushed them to 6-5 on the season, 4-3 in NEC play.
Duqusense was not only without Parr, who has missed each of the past three games. The team had four players miss the start of the game for violation of team rules. Kellon Taylor, their leading receiver, missed the first quarter while the school’s All-Time leading rusher A.J. Hines missed the first half of the contest. Receiver Dom Thieman and cornerback Daivon Ellison also missed the first half. Hines’ backup and compliment Mark Allen also missed the game with an injury.
Without their top two wide receivers, top two running backs and starting quarterback it was going to be tough to find any offensive help, especially when considering CCSU came into the game with the conference’s top ranked defense, and an undefeated conference record.
With the stage now set, the game played out as expected. Duquesne punted on three of their first five drives, and missed a field goal on another. CCSU was able to find an offensive spark with the run-pass duality from quarterback Aaron Winchester.
CCSU scored on their first three possessions. They capitalized early and the Dukes were unable to match, digging a 19-3 hole.
“They are a really good defense,” noted head coach Jerry Schmitt on the offensive struggles. “We had a couple of guys out today, and we knew it would take time to work on the timing and execution of everything.”
A Reid Harrison-Ducros interception before the half helped the offense find rhythm and the return of Taylor was just in time to catch a touchdown and cut the lead to 19-10 before the half.
“It was an out and up,” Harrison-Ducros “I read it and I kind of adjusted and made a play, I couldn’t have done it without the defensive line putting pressure on them.”
Despite getting some pieces back, and building momentum before the half, CCSU played poised and earned their #18 ranking in the FCS polls. They put together a strong drive to go up 22-10, and connected on a 73-yard pass to open the game up 29-10. Winchester finished with 188 yards through the air and added 61 on the ground to lead his team.
“We really haven’t seen a mobile quarterback like that all year,” Schmitt noted of the defensive issue . “He is a dynamic weapon.”
Starting both halves strong put Duquesne in uncomfortable positions. A pick-six form the arm of Brett Brumbaugh ended any chance of second half magic and put Duquesne down 36-10. Another Brumbaugh interception led to another CCSU rushing touchdown and at 43-10 the route was on.
This was obviously not the way the Dukes wanted their season to end. However, the Dukes did finish with a winning record overall and in conference. Their senior class won multiple NEC championships and will be remembered as a winning group of seniors.
“They have won a lot of football games,” Schmitt noted of the seniors. “30 seniors is our biggest class. In the classroom and on the football it has been an honor for me, and I am excited to see them go onto the next stage of life.”
“It’s been a blessing to come to Duquesne,” added Harrison-Ducros, “It’s really a big family and even after we leave theyre still my brothers.”
“It has been incredible,” senior defensive back Ricky Mellcik added. “All of the winning and being here for coach Schmitt breaking the wins record, and A.J. Hines breaking the All-Time rushing record, it has been an incredible journey.”
RICKY MELLICK’S BIG DAY
Mellick highlighted the day for the seniors as a special teams captain who has consistently done the dirty work in his five years with the Dukes. On his senior day, the Dukes were able to get him the recognition he deserved by playing not only all special teams phases, but offense and defense as well.
“He is our swiss-army knife,” joked Schmitt of the added versatility in his last game. “His leadership is outstanding, and we are going to have a hard time replacing him.
“That was awesome, the fact that I got to tote the rock, pay defense and special teams my only regret is I didn’t finish with a pick late in that game.” added Mellick.
GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE?
Senior day headlined the game, but the injury to Allen and Hines missing the first half paved the way for Ky’ren Cunningham, to get his first start of 2019. Cunningham started in 2018 against Hawaii when A.J. Hines was hurt, but an injury in the game ended his freshman season.
With 21 carries for 101 yards, Cunningham set a foundation to fill in the shoes of the All-Time leading rusher, Hines.
“I have been waiting on it all season,” exclaimed Cunningham. “So I just did what I knew I could do. It was just a little glimpse I think I can do a little more moving forward.”
Cunningham noted that while he is ready to fill the shoes of a Duqusense legend, he also would not be here if it were not for the leadership of his teammate Hines.
“He paved the way for me,” added Cunningham. We are both big guys and he took me under his shoulder once I got here. I am grateful for him.”
Schmitt noted that he was happy to see the young back thrive and potentially set momentum for a big workload in 2020.
“He got some quality snaps last year, but I thought he added to that today,” Schmitt said. “He ran hard, like we saw in high school. It was encouraging for us. ”