Duquesne played Wagner today for the first, third, and fourth quarter. Some other team showed up during the second.
They looked like the Dukes. They had the same uniforms and numbers. They appeared to be the same height and perhaps to have the same names, but it was a different team during that quarter, one that perhaps looked more like the team that showed up to play against West Liberty.
Nonetheless, Duquesne rolled to a 34 – 7 victory against preseason NEC favorite Wagner.
Early on, the Dukes clearly had a game plan – and the right one – against this Seahawk team. Quick passes along the line of scrimmage or perhaps just beyond led to easy 4 or 7 yard gains. The running backs were mixed in occasionally so that the defense could stay off balance. This strategy led to an early touchdown and a 7 – 0 score for the Dukes.
Not long after, Austin Crimmins put one through the uprights to make it 10 – 7.
Then things got weird.
The Dukes abandoned their effective game plan. Buechel, who looked like he had come back to his old self, threw an interception almost right to a Wagner player. Wagner in turn suddenly found themselves able to move almost at will against the Duquesne defense. The score was 10 – 7 in Duquesne’s favor, but the Seahawks had all the momentum.
Aaron Fleck remained the lone Duke to play like himself on this sudden team of doppelgängers. Excellent punting by him kept the Wagner offense from favorable field position. Towards the close of the half, the defense came back and forced the Seahawks to a three-and-out. Duquesne burned their time outs along the way, perhaps hoping to get a field goal before the half. Then the questionable plays returned.
Three passes, two incomplete and all longer than they needed to be, and the third a short one that was never going to go anywhere kept Duquesne from being able to capitalize on starting from the Wagner side of the field.
The third quarter opened with Wagner getting a bit chippy. Two Seahawk players absolutely murdered Kyle Egan well away from the play. It was ugly, but the official who witnessed elected to call nothing whatsoever. Otherwise, fans saw a defensive battle. The teams traded three-and-outs back and forth, but Aaron Fleck’s leg kept Wagner pinned back and the defense was able to keep them off the board.
A note about the defense – they appeared to be quite effective in stopping the dangerous Dominique Williams, star Wagner running back. This was a pleasant surprise. Their tackling was much more effective today than it had been at any point this year, and they had a few sacks and tackles for loss to their credit.
Toward the end of the third quarter, the Duquesne offense had an epiphany. “What if,” they muttered to themselves, “we play the way we did early on, when we scored that touchdown? Maybe we would score again?”
The answer was yes.
As the last minutes of the third quarter went on, the offense was back to their old tricks. Quick passes. Timely running plays. First down followed first down and as the fourth quarter began the Dukes converted it to a touchdown off of a Ryan Ho run. The touchdown appeared to come on a Devin Rahming reception a play earlier, but the official seemed to blow the call, as our excellent photo shows.
I call this incontrovertible evidence of a touchdown. It’s where the ball is, not where his feet are.
Nonetheless, after the Ho run it was now 17 – 7 and the Dukes would not look back. The defense continued to stymie the Wagner offense. Buechel’s stat line – 25 – 37 for 189 yards, a TD, and two picks – doesn’t really show how effective he was as eight different players had a catch. These were high-percentage plays designed to keep the chains moving. When he did go for the long bomb, it was either not quite on target or the receivers let them bounce off of their hands.
Buechel does need to stop throwing to receivers who are outside and ahead of defenders. This positioning resulted in his two picks today.
Regardless, Austin Crimmins booted another field goal to make it 20 – 7. The defense was again effective in forcing the Seahawks to punt, when Devin Rahming decided to get involved once more. He helped the cause with a beautiful 62 yard punt return, breaking tackle after tackle, to make it 27 – 7.
The final nail in the coffin for Wagner was a 40 yard touchdown run by Ethan Dorsey.
The yardage stats for the Dukes make it look like they played half a game and that is partially true – the offense couldn’t move the ball at all for the second and most of the third quarter. However, the rest of that time they were effective at keeping Wagner off balance.
This was a great win for the Dukes and propels them – for now – to the top of the NEC standings. We’ll talk more about the aftermath tomorrow, but for now a Duquesne team won an important game in front of a crowd. Many alumni around us were commenting that they needed to come up and watch this team a little more. That’s a victory in its own right!
Stay tuned for more coverage of the victory as well as some photos of the biggest moments in the fourth quarter!