PITTSBURGH – Saint Francis University (4-4, 3-1) quarterback Justin Sliwoski led the Red Flash to a 17-10 win over Duquesne (4-3, 2-2) at Arthur J. Rooney Field. It’s the Dukes second straight conference loss.
Sliwoski, who is a redshirt sophomore, replaced Jyron Russell in the second half and gave the Red Flash a spark from the get-go, as St. Francis scored a touchdown on its opening possession of the second half after being shutout in the first two quarters.
Sliwoski completed 7 of 9 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, along with 59 yards rushing in the second half. St. Francis finished the game with 254 total yards of offense after recording just 94 yards in the first half with Russell at quarterback.The quarterback change ended up being the right decision by head coach Chris Villarrial, as St. Francis looked like a completely different team with Sliwoski under center.
After Duquesne forced a three-and-out on St. Francis’ first two possessions of the game, third-string quarterback Evan Nelson connected to wide receiver Cyrus Holder for a 26-yard touchdown to give the Dukes a 7-0 lead with 4:37 left in the first quarter. It was Nelson’s only pass attempt on the scoring drive, as freshman running back Billy Lucas carried the load with three first down runs. Nelson started at quarterback for the Dukes instead of Darius Perrantes, who was out with a lower-body injury.
“Our O-line was really dominate on that whole drive, and he made a great play,” Nelson said about his 26-yard touchdown pass to Holder.
On St. Francis’ next possession following Nelson’s touchdown pass, Dukes cornerback Leandro DeBrito delivered a big hit on running back Lovell Armstead after a reception over the middle, and Duquesne came up with the loose ball. The Dukes couldn’t capitalize off the turnover, however, as they recorded just one first down and were forced to punt.
St. Francis mustered just one first down on its next possession, as Dukes defensive back Shane Stump put an end to the drive when he sacked St. Francis quarterback Jyron Russell on third down for an 11-yard loss. Duquesne took over on its 35-yard line following the punt by St. Francis.
Lucas and Garrett Owens each had runs for first down yardage, but the Dukes’ drive was put to a halt when Nelson checked down to Owens well short of the first down marker on third-and-8. Near the end of the second quarter, St. Francis got to Duquesne’s 40-yard line, but the Dukes’ defense remained stout and forced a stop. Duquesne went into halftime with a 7-0 lead.
Duquesne held St. Francis to just 94 total yards of offense in the first half. The Dukes didn’t have much going offensively either in the first two quarters with 99 total yards, but the 26-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to Holder was the difference. On St. Francis’ first possession of the second half, Sliwoski completed a deep ball over the middle to wide receiver Josh McGrigg for 37 yards, which set up the Red Flash at the Dukes’ 1-yard line. On second-and-goal, Sliwoski pitched the ball to running back Marques DeShields to the right side and he went into the end zone untouched to tie the game at 7-7 with 10:38 remaining in the third quarter.
Midway through the third quarter, Duquesne got to St. Francis’ 33-yard line, but the drive stalled after a Nelson incompletion on third-and-5. The Dukes were in no man’s land, so they went for it on fourth down, but Nelson got sacked and the Dukes turned the ball over on downs.
Following a three-and-out forced by the Dukes, Nelson put together a promising drive, but it came to an end when wide receiver Wykeen Gill dropped a pass on third-and-6 that would have gone for first down yardage. Duquesne had to settle for a field goal attempt instead, and Andrew Smith’s kick was good from 39 yards out to give the Dukes a 10-7 lead with 14:51 remaining in the fourth quarter.
St. Francis answered with a Sliwoski read-option run that went for 61 yards, which set up the Red Flash at the Dukes’ 5-yard line. On the next play, Sliwoski completed to wide receiver Kahtero Summers for a touchdown to give St. Francis a 14-10 lead over the Dukes with 13:31 left in the game.
Late in the fourth quarter, Joey Isabella muffed a punt and St. Francis came up with the loose ball at the Dukes’ 30-yard line. Isabella was calling for a fair catch and a Duquesne player got blocked into Isabella’s leg. The officials didn’t rule it as an illegal play, however.
St. Francis drained some clock and set up kicker Alex Schmoke for a 22-yard field goal, which he put through the uprights to give the Red Flash a 17-10 lead with 53 seconds remaining in the game.
On the Dukes final drive, Nelson got sacked by linebacker Jaylen Parks and Duquesne faced 4th-and-20. On one last effort, Nelson’s pass fell incomplete over the middle of the field and St. Francis secured the win. Nelson finished the game completing 8 of 21 for 85 yards and a touchdown in his first career start. When trailing 14-10 in the fourth quarter, Nelson had numerous chances to connect on a big play to his receivers, but they just couldn’t make a play.
“Just a couple I didn’t put in the right spot, and we didn’t win the game, obviously,” Nelson said about the incompletions on deep passes in the fourth quarter. “I got to be better and put it on the money. Those guys will make plays if I give them the best chance they have.”
Moving forward, Nelson plans on building chemistry with his receivers.
“For me, I just want to get timing with the wideouts,” Nelson said. “I mean, the balls weren’t always in the right spot today. And I got to get timing with them and get them the ball so they can make plays because they’re great players.”
The Dukes play at Long Island University next Saturday. Kickoff is at noon.