Pittsburgh, PA — Early impressions of Saturday afternoon’s football contest between Duquesne and Wagner were that this would be a close and competitive match, but junior Ricky Mellick quickly changed that narrative.
Mellick recovered a punt fumbled by Wagner’s Gerald Kahari, putting Duquesne in good field position. Two plays later, sophomore A.J. Hines ran the ball 33 yards for a touchdown.
Duquesne never looked back after that defeating Wagner 38-0 Saturday afternoon at Rooney Field, extending its win streak to four in the process.
“What I liked about us was that we played every play as hard as we could, Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt said. “We tried to play fast and play smart and I thought we did that through 60 minutes. Even when some things went bad for us, we stepped up.”
Duquesne (4-1, 1-0 NEC) was predicted to place first place in the NEC Preseason Poll and currently owns the best overall conference record.
Wagner is now 0-4 in road games this season and the latest defeat represents the team’s first shutout since Sept. 14, 2013, a fact which drew a soft but noticeable “ooh” from Schmitt.
Hines’s score came on his third touch in his first game back from injury after missing two games.
The score held firm until a second quarter Duquesne drive which ended in graduate student quarterback Tommy Stuart finding Nehari Crawford by the left side of the end zone on a perfectly placed ball guarding the middle-left portion of the end zone.
With Wagner largely contained, Duquesne had possession and 1:36 remaining in the first half game clock. It took all of a minute for Duquesne to find the end zone for a third time.
To obtain that score, Stuart found sophomore wideout Kellon Taylor for a 23-yard connection.
Wagner had the ball to open third quarter play and Duquesne’s defense was able to stand tall, setting the tone which had already taken shape in the first half.
Earlier in the game, Stuart unsuccessfully tried to connect with Crawford on a deep pass but the second time proved to be the charm, to the tune of a 79-yard touchdown play.
“The first one was a little too deep, so the second one I said to myself that I had to make a play and make up for that first one,” said Crawford.
Duquesne was not done scoring the football and in the fourth quarter, Stuart found junior tight end Stew Allen for a 17-yard touchdown play.
This was Stuart’s fourth touchdown of the game and he went 14-23 with 238 yards on the afternoon.
“As a quarterback I don’t think he’s grown, he came as a really good quarterback, but he’s grown in our system,” Schmitt said. “Each and every day he gets more comfortable from the passing part of it, to having meetings with me about protections and the way he can set protections and give himself hot reads and what receivers to utilize. He’s really taken a crash course here and each day gets better.”
Duquesne’s Bryan Fegley scored the final points of this game when his 20-yard field goal.
Putting it all together
In many cases this could have been a tough start to Duquesne’s season as the schedule now transitions to NEC play, but that has not been the case.
Duquesne fell to a ranked South Dakota team, and according to Crawford, that setback has helped this team take the next step forward.
“That first loss played a key part in waking us up,” Crawford said. “Now we just have to come out and play hard every weekend and hope we get a W.”
In addition to that, the injury bug bit the team towards the tail end of what was a season opening three game road trip. In that final road game, which came at Dayton, Duquesne played without several of its starters and still came away with the victory.
Duquesne was still without a couple of its starters in a win against West Virginia Wesleyan, but put many pieces together on both sides of the ball Saturday afternoon, even though the injury bug did hit once again.
“Our guys are excited about starting this conference play where a couple of guys had some injuries are getting back,” said Schmitt. “Today we had a safety go down and Stephan Osong stepped in again and did a great. Credit goes to all of the coaches for developing these guys, not just the starters.”
Throughout it all, Schmitt has consistently explained this team has the lack of a superstar last year’s team had in both Dillon Buechel and Christian Kuntz. He believes Hines would be considered though it is likely he is not 100 percent in coming back from injury.
Regardless, Schmitt refers to his team as having a bunch of “budding superstars” who fare well on the field with hard work and togetherness.
The way Crawford describes this on paper seems cocky, but really listening to him describe the feeling of Duquesne’s accomplishments definitely showed pride and at least for a moment, satisfaction that his team is doing a lot of right.
“We finally got it all together,” he said. “The first conference game, we had to come out and show the world that we’re ready to do this and ready to roll.”
Celebrating past success
Jack McVay Jr. could not help but beam with pride when discussing both this season’s Duquesne team and one which he holds very dear to his heart.
McVay organized a ceremony along with Duquesne Director of Athletics David Harper which occurred at the end of the first quarter Saturday afternoon which commemorated the 40 year anniversary of a 1977 team which went 7-2 under the direction of coach Dan McCann and were NCFA Championship Game runners-up.
“We went and beat Division III teams that year and went the championship for club football,” McVay said. “I believe we advanced the program to where it became Division III shortly thereafter, two years later. We like to feel we have a lot to do with this program coming back to where it is today.”
McVay is now a judge with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and his heart is still very much dedicated to Duquesne athletics. This was showcased again Saturday afternoon where he consistently found someone to catch up with, pat a player on the back or just take a moment to enjoy his surroundings and smile.
“It’s heartwarming, it’s thrilling,” said McVay. “Duquesne was so good to me and I am just so proud of where the program is. There are just so many good football players and coaches now. There wasn’t a homecoming game, there wasn’t this atmosphere but now there is a buzz in sports at Duquesne and I think Dave Harper’s leadership has led to a lot of enthusiasm.”
Duquesne will take to the road facing Robert Morris Saturday in a game played at 6 p.m. Duquesne has a 9-3 overall record against Robert Morris.