Duquesne’s successful 2020-21 season that seemed destine for a playoff spot came to a screeching halt after the Dukes’ 30-27 overtime loss to the Sacred Heart Pioneers in the NEC Championship game.
The Dukes were 4-0 heading into that game, the only unbeaten in the NEC, and had earned their first Top 25 ranking since 2018. Unfortunately for them, the NEC avoided its normal format and put in a championship game for the spring season. Normally, the NEC crown would go to the team with the best conference record at year’s end, but this year, it was decided by a game between the two best.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Duquesne showed time and time again this year what they can do with a relatively young core, especially on offense.
The Dukes’ offense was led by sophomore quarterback Joe Mischler, who transferred to Duquesne from Ohio after 2019. He put up 1195 yards and 9 touchdowns in five games and finished with a completion percentage of 65.4%. Mischler topped 335 yards and 3 touchdowns twice this year, and was named to the All-NEC First Team for the 2020-21 season.
The starting running back was graduate transfer Garrett Owens, who had a solid campaign, but freshman running back Billy Lucas was equally impressive, especially down the stretch.
Lucas tallied 110 rushing yards and a touchdown in each of the last two games, won NEC Co-Rookie of the Week in week 4, and took home NEC Offensive Rookie of the Year, becoming just the second player in the Dukes’ history to do so.
Another player on the Duquesne offense to win NEC Rookie of the Week was freshman receiver Joey Isabella. Isabella caught 17 passes this year for 194 yards and two scores and earned the honor in week 2 against Wagner. He’s the first Duquesne wide receiver to ever win the award.
“Those guys stepped up in a big way when we needed it,” Mischler said. “They’re good kids first, and they come in and they ask questions and they want to get better. They’re just like your little brothers, you just love ’em to death and they just come and work it every day. Their hard work has been showing recently and I’m very excited for them. They deserve the opportunity and they deserve what they’ve been doing … They really have had to go through a lot to even be able to play football. If you think about what a freshman has gone through since they’ve got to college, it just shows you their character and it shows you what type of people they are. We’re very, very lucky to have them here, they’re great talents. But, again, they’re just great people and I’m happy to be on a team with them and looking forward to see how their gonna keep developing in the future.”
Head coach Jerry Schmitt also showed major faith in the two freshman.
“We’re extremely pleased with their performance, especially late in this season,” Schmitt said. “Billy had a great game. Garrett Owens was banged up last game and Billy stepped up and he stepped up today. We knew he had some talent, but last year he was behind AJ Hines and so he was learning, but he’s matured very quickly and taken on that role and we’re really looking forward to him in the future. And Joey Isabella came in as a freshman this year and I’m gonna tell you something, I’m not sure I’ve ever coached a kid that works as hard as that kid, so I’m happy to see it pay off. Listen, every day in the fall we were paused and we were doing some individual workouts a couple days a week. But, I walk in at 7 a.m., he’s already on the field every morning working out on his own. He’s got his cones, he’s got his ladders, he’s got his balls. It payed off for him. Obviously he’s an undersized kid, but he’s quick as could be, catches the football. We’re really excited about him. And this season doesn’t count for their eligibility, so each of those guys will have four more years to play for us.”
Duquesne will be back in action in September following a shortened offseason with plenty of young talent to look forward to.