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Turnovers Plague Duquesne in Defeat Against Albany, 33-23
Most of the crowd of 1,682 at cozy Rooney Field had dispersed when Connor Dixon emerged from a locker room with an ice pack on his surgically repaired right shoulder and an unpredictable smile on his face.
Dixon, the first-year Duquesne University quarterback who led South Park to the 2005 PIAA Class AA football championship before signing with Michigan State, wasn’t thrilled with the Dukes’ 33-23 Northeast Conference loss to Albany (N.Y.).
Nor was he discouraged.
“Turnovers,” Dixon said, shaking his head in reference to two lost fumbles and three interceptions.
Interceptions thrown by Dixon, who completed 21 of 46 passes for 338 yards, bringing his season total to 1,208 yards through four games.
Three Albany touchdowns followed two fumble recoveries and one interception.
“Against any team, you’re going to have trouble winning when you do that,” Dixon said. “Personally, I don’t think they were much better than us. I really don’t. But they are a great team.”
David McCarty, a junior, rushed for 230 yards to top 2,000 for his career, and Vinny Esposito threw three touchdown passes and rushed for another score to lead Albany (2-3, 1-0), which was playing its fifth consecutive road game to start the season.
The Great Danes, preseason favorites to repeat as Northeast Conference champions, ended a two-game losing streak. Their three losses have been to ranked Division I Football Championship Subdivision teams Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Delaware.
“It was hard to gauge Albany. It was difficult to determine their style because of who they’ve played,” Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt said. “I was nervous, but our kids came out and played hard. They did some very positive things today.”
Duquesne (2-2, 1-1) led twice: 7-0 in the first quarter on a 20-yard touchdown run by Cleodis Williams, and 17-14 in the second quarter on a 20-yard field goal by Mark Troyan.
But Albany led at halftime, 20-17, after McCarty caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Esposito with 58 seconds remaining in the half.
After a scoreless third quarter, Albany sealed the victory on a pair of short Esposito scoring passes of 5 yards to Tim Bush and 2 yards to Justin Petersen.
Dixon threw touchdown passes of 42 yards in the second quarter to Conrad Carter and 41 yards in the fourth quarter to Sean Bunevich, who finished with eight receptions for 163 yards.
“We played hard, and that’s all you can hope for. We hung around,” Dixon said.
Duquesne, in its first season in the Northeast Conference after years of dominating the defunct Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Football League, outgained Albany in total yards, 392-312. But the Dukes managed just 54 yards rushing.
Duquesne, coming off an impressive 24-16 victory over defending Pioneer League champion Dayton, plays at city rival Robert Morris next Saturday in the first game between the teams as members of the same conference.
“It’s going to challenge us as a young team,” Schmitt said. “This stretch is going to test our character.”
Duquesne is a drastic change for Dixon, a redshirt sophomore who was accustomed to the mammoth Big Ten Conference venues as a backup quarterback at Michigan State before injuring the labrum on his throwing shoulder, undergoing offseason surgery and ultimately transferring to Duquesne.
“I’m happy,” he said. “I like being here. This is home. It’s been different, but in a good way.”
The change in leagues allowed Duquesne to offer scholarships to such players as Dixon, the Associated Press Class AA player of the year in 2005. The Northeast Conference allows for 30 per team, or nearly half that of most FCS programs.
“Albany has been in a scholarship situation for three years,” Schmitt said. “We’re a little behind.”
It showed, particularly in the second half, when Duquesne’s 27 offensive plays were 21 fewer than it ran in the first.
“We’re not as far as other teams in the conference,” Dixon said. “We might be a couple of years behind in that sense, but I still think we beat ourselves today.”
Turnovers plague Duquesne in defeat
By Dave Mackall, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review