A standout performance by running back Malik Grant in the second half led Sacred Heart (5-3, 3-1) to a 31-13 victory over Duquesne (4-2, 2-1) at Campus Field in Fairfield, Conn.
Duquesne held Grant to just 16 yards rushing on 10 carries in the first two quarters, but he went off in the second half, finishing the game with 186 yards rushing on 34 carries and two touchdowns.
Grant came into today’s game as the nation’s leading rusher and is now over 1,000 yards rushing on the season.
Sacred Heart has Duquesne’s number as of late, as they also defeated the Dukes in the NEC Championship game in April.
Garrett Owens got things started for the Dukes with a 75-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage. It was a simple run off the left side and Owens scampered down the sidelines thanks to a great block by wide receiver Cyrus Holder. It was a career-long for Owens and his fourth rushing touchdown on the season.
Sacred Heart answered on their second possession with an 8-play, 54-yard drive that was capped off by a 12-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Rob McCoy. McCoy, who is a mobile quarterback, went into the end zone untouched, as Duquesne bit on the read-option. McCoy rotates with starting quarterback Marquez McCray, mostly coming in on short-yardage situations.
Andrew Smith nailed a 29-yard field goal late in the first quarter to give Duquesne a 10-7 lead. Darius Perrantes led the Dukes on a 13-play, 49-yard drive, but stalled in the red zone.
After the Dukes forced a three-and-out, freshman Nick Leopold blocked a punt and Duquesne took over inside Sacred Heart’s 10-yard line. Leopold came in scot-free on the block.
Duquesne mustered just a field goal off the big special team’s play, however, as Sacred Heart made another red zone stop. Duquesne came into today’s game with the No. 1 ranked red-zone offense, converting touchdowns on all 24 red zone trips.
Midway through the second quarter, Sacred Heart had a promising drive with two big completions from McCray to wide receiver Kenneth Womack, but the Dukes’ defense made a stop in the red zone and forced a 31-yard field goal attempt, which was missed by Sam Renzi.
With 49 seconds in the second quarter, Perrantes fumbled while scrambling and Sacred Heart recovered the loose ball. It was the first turnover of the game for both teams. McCray got Sacred Heart within the Dukes’ 20-yard line and set up a 35-yard field goal attempt for Renzi, which went wide left. Renzi missed from 31 and 35 yards out in the first half. Duquesne went into halftime with a 13-7 lead.
Grant finally got some open space on Sacred Heart’s second possession of the third quarter and finished off the 9-play, 65-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown to give the Pioneers a 14-13 lead. Grant had five carries for 45 yards on the drive. Duquesne was also called for a costly hands to the face penalty on the possession.
After forcing a three-and-out, Sacred Heart took over from their 44-yard line and drove down the field for a touchdown with ease. Sacred Heart had first downs on four straight plays to set up a 3-yard rushing touchdown by Jalen Madison to give the Pioneers a 21-13 lead late in the third quarter. To set up the 3-yard touchdown by Madison, McCray scrambled for a first down on third-and-10 and then completed a pass to tight end Ed Cuddahy for 12 yards. Grant then ripped off two runs of over 10 yards.
With momentum swinging toward Sacred Heart, things just got worse for the Dukes on their next possession, as Perrantes got picked off by strong safety Salaam Horn. It was just the third interception thrown by Perrantes this year.
The Pioneers managed to get a field goal off the interception. With Renzi missing two field goals in the first half, Sacred Heart head coach Mark Nofri sent out punter Noah Gettman for a 33-yard field goal instead, which he put right through the uprights to give Sacred Heart a 24-13 early in the fourth quarter.
Following Gettman’s 33-yard field goal, Duquesne went three-and-out again. The Dukes just didn’t have any chemistry offensively in the second half and were hindered by penalties. Duquesne wide receiver Joey Isabella got thrown out of the game for shoving a Sacred Heart player in the helmet on the sidelines, which also put the Dukes behind the chains on the drive.
Sacred Heart took advantage of great field position on their next drive and drove down the field on a 4-play, 33-yard drive, which was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown by Grant to give the Pioneers a 31-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Grant also went over 100 yards rushing on the drive.
Sacred Heart scored 24 consecutive points in the second half to overcome a 13-7 halftime deficit.
Perrantes suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. He was replaced by Evan Nelson. The Dukes will face Saint Francis University at Rooney Field next Saturday.