PITTSBURGH — Duquesne came up short 34-27 in overtime Sunday against Sacred Heart in the NEC Championship. An untimely first loss for the Dukes gives the Pioneers their fifth NEC title and first FCS Playoff appearance since 2018.
The Dukes were down 14 points in the fourth quarter, but were unable to complete the comeback after forcing overtime.
“I don’t that think we played our best football game,” head coach Jerry Schmitt said, “but I was very proud of our players for coming back in a situation were we made some mistakes and giving ourselves an opportunity to win the game there in the fourth quarter with the football last, and then at the end with the ball on the 3-yard line.”
Duquesne sophomore quarterback Joe Mischler finished the day 23-for-40 passing with 335 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. His fumble into the end zone in overtime was recovered by the Pioneers, sealing the victory.
“Obviously not the way we wanted to end things, but you gotta give credit to Sacred Heart,” Mischler said. “They came out, they played a really high level today and at the end of the day we didn’t play well enough to win, but we’re just gonna get back to work, and that’s what we do.”
Duquesne’s senior wide receiver Cyrus Holder caught eight passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. Freshman receiver Joey Isabella added six catches for 76 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Duquesne’s graduate transfer running back Garrett Owens dealt with an injury throughout the game. Freshman running back Billy Lucas stepped up in his place and had 110 yards and a score on 22 carries.
Sacred Heart’s sophomore quarterback Marquez McCray was 15-for-23 passing with 180 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the deciding score in overtime.
His number one target on the day was junior wide receiver Naseim Brantley, who had four catches for 74 yards and a receiving touchdown as well as a passing touchdown.
The Pioneers’ junior running back Julius Chestnut added 173 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Sacred Heart opened up the scoring on a trick play when McCray pitched it to Brantley who threw it on the reverse to offensive lineman Garrett Lynn from 6 yards out.
Lucas put the Dukes on the board late in the first quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Then, in the second quarter, McCray found junior receiver Rob DiNota in the endzone on a 7-yard touchdown pass.
The Dukes took the lead early in the second half when Mischler found Isabella in the corner of the end zone from 11 yards away. Following the touchdown, Duquesne went for two and did not convert.
The Pioneers retook the lead with a 1-yard touchdown from sophomore running back Malik Grant and a two-point conversion. They increased that lead to 14 points with a 6-yard touchdown run from Chestnut.
The Dukes stormed back in the fourth with two touchdown passes to Holder and Isabella to tie up the game.
In overtime, McCray connected with Brantley on a 29-yard touchdown on 4th & 14, which proved to be the game-winning score.
“It’s unfortunate, but we learned a lot from this spring season,” Dukes coach Jerry Schmitt said. “We got together there in the locker room and said that except for this, which we have to deal with as learning from this lesson, but everything else about the spring football season turned out positive for us.”
The FCS selection show is scheduled for April 18 at 11:30 a.m. on ESPNU. The playoffs will begin April 24.