Dukes Open NEC Era vs. Saint Francis

The Duquesne football program enters a new era when it takes on Saint Francis, Pa. in the 2008 home opener on Saturday, Sept. 20 at 7:00 p.m.

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Northeast Conference Opener

SAINT FRANCIS, Pa. (0-2, 0-0) at DUQUESNE (0-1, 0-0)
Saturday, Sept. 20 at 7:00 p.m.
Arthur J. Rooney Athletic Field (2,200/Sportexe) — Pittsburgh, Pa.

RADIO: WMNY-AM 1360 with Alex Panormios (play-by-play) & Tad Maurey (color)
AUDIO STREAMING: www.RedZoneMedia.com
STREAMING VIDEO & IN-GAME STATS: www.GoDuquesne.com Gameday Central

DUKES BEGIN NEC PLAY VS. SAINT FRANCIS, PA

The Duquesne football program enters a new era when it takes on Saint Francis, Pa.in the 2008 home opener on Saturday, Sept. 20 at 7:00 p.m. (WMNY-AM 1360). This is the first Northeast Conference game for the Dukes who spent the past 14 seasons in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Football League. The Dukes, who claimed 11 MAAC championships in 14 years in the league from 1994-2007: 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 (co-), 2007 (co-), were picked to finish fifth in a preseason poll of NEC coaches.

Saint Francis, Pa., whom Duquesne has played 34 times, was picked to finish eighth. Duquesne has been idle since a season-opening 48-42 loss at Bucknell on Sept. 6. The Dukes fell behind 48-7 early in the third quarter before posting 35 consecutive points.

Michigan State transfer quarterback Connor Dixon, in his first start as a Duke, threw for 429 yards and a school record six touchdowns in his debut. Dixon was named NEC Offensive Player of the Week (Sept. 8) for his performance. Saint Francis saw a 16-0 third quarter lead slip away in a 30-22 home loss to Marist on Saturday.

DUKES AND RED FLASH

Duquesne holds a 29-5 advantage in a series that dates back to 1913 ... the Dukes have won all nine meetings since moving to the FCS level in 1993 ... Saint Francis' last win came by a 23-13 score on Nov. 7, 1992 at Pittsburgh over Dan McCann's Division III Dukes ... the 2005 game marked the renewal of a series that was contested for all but four seasons between 1969-98 ... in the last meeting at Rooney Field (Sept. 16, 2006), Scott Knapp threw for 269 yards and a career-high four touchdowns to lead Duquesne to a convincing 41-10 win in the Dukes' home opener ... Knapp, who completed 18-of-28 passes, found Bruce Hocker for three scores in the opening 30 minutes as the Dukes jumped out to a 27-3 halftime lead .... last year, Kevin Rombach completed 8-of-14 passes for 164 yards in the third quarter as the Dukes rallied from a 7-3 halftime deficit to win 24-17 at SFU's DeGol Field ... cornerback Aaron Strader sealed the hard earned victory with an interception at the DU nine-yard line with 2:19 left.

ON SAINT FRANCIS

Saint Francis won three of its final four games to finish with a 3-7 record last season ... the Red Flash, who return 20 starters, were picked to finish eighth in the NEC in a preseason poll of league coaches ... junior quarterback George Little (Duquesne, Pa./Duquesne) led the NEC in total offense last season ... linebacker Scott Lewis (South Fork, Pa./Bishop McCourt), a 2007 First Team All-NEC pick, led all freshman FCS players with his 12.6 tackles per game last season ... his league-high 126 tackles stand as the fourth-best single-season total in NEC history and his 55 solo stops were 18th in the nation ... SFU opened the season with a 49-0 loss at VMI on Sept. 6 ... the VMI defense limited Saint Francis to a school and stadium record -4 yards rushing and also forced two fumbles which led to scores ... the Keydets outgained Saint Francis, 444-252, including 418 yards on the ground ... George Little completed 23 of 45 passes for 256 yards while Red Flash wideouts Omar Winston and Antoine Rivera caught seven and six passes, respectively ... last week SFU dropped a 30-22 decision to Marist at DeGol Field ... Saint Francis led the game 16-0 midway through the third quarter before Marist exploded for 30 points in a span of 15:05 ... Marist outgained SFU 443-303 including a 289-101 advantage on the ground ... Little, who threw a pair of touchdown passes to Rivera, was 13-of-20 for 202 yards on the afternoon ... Rivera finished with five catches for 115 yards ... the game was turnover-free ... SFU enters the game ranked 109th of 118 teams in the FCS in rushing defense, giving up an average of 353.5 yards per game ... Saint Francis ranks 33rd in passing offense (229.0 ypg.) and Rivera ranks 15th nationally in receiving yards per game (101.5) ... the Red Flash are led by seventh year head coach Dave Opfar.

ROONEY RENOVATION

Coinciding with Duquesne's move to the Northeast Conference was an extensive renovation of DU's Arthur J. Rooney Athletic Field. Rooney Field, opened in 1993, was given an off-season facelift that included the construction of permanent grandstands on the press box side of the field. In addition, a concession stand and restrooms were installed. On the visitor's side, seating along Academic Walk was expanded. New light standards were added to illuminate the new Sportexe artificial playing surface. This was the first significant upgrade to the field since the facility's dedication game in ‘93. Future plans include a renovation of the fieldhouse at the east end of the field. A new locker room and coaches offices are part of phase II scheduled to be finished in time for the 2009 season.

LEFTOVERS FROM THE OPENER

Notes from Duquesne's season opening 48-42 loss at Bucknell, Sept. 6:

  • The win was Bucknell's fifth in a row over Duquesne ... the Bison lead the overall series 9-3
  • 16 of the 45 players who saw action for Duquesne were freshmen ... two others were first-year sophomores
  • Bucknell outgained Duquesne 361-118 and averaged 11.6 yards per play in the first half
  • The Dukes outgained (367-176) and outscored the Bison (35-6) in the second half
  • Bucknell's 48 points were the most by a DU opponent since Penn scored 51 in a 51-10 win over the Dukes on Sept. 20, 2003
  • Duquesne scored the game's final 35 points
  • Sophomore quarterback Connor Dixon (South Park, Pa./South Park), seeing his first meaningful game action since his senior season of high school (2005), shook off the rust to throw for 429 yards and a school record six touchdown passes in his first career collegiate start ... Dixon, who redshirted in 2006, saw mop-up duty in Michigan State's 2007 season opener vs. UAB as the No. 2 quarterback ... Dixon started slowly, completing 2-of-6 passes for nine yards in the first quarter ... his 429 yards were nine shy of the school record of 438 set by Tony Zimmerman against Iona in 2000 ... Dixon, who completed passes to seven different receivers, finished 30-of-47 with no interceptions
  • Senior receiver Alex Roberson (Waynesboro, Ga./Curtis Baptist Upper School) set new career highs for catches (11) and yards (154) ... Roberson, who has now caught at least one pass in each of his last 23 games played, has topped the 100-yard mark in five of his last eight games
  • Junior tailback Cleodis Williams (Carlisle, Pa./Carlisle), who last saw action at Saint Francis, Pa. on Nov. 19, 2005 (three carries for four yards), finished with a team-high 37 yards on 12 carries ... Williams, who took a screen pass 38 yards for a score, sat out the past two seasons while attending to academic issues
  • Sophomore Nathan Totino (Pittsburgh, Pa./Seton-La Salle) had a game- and career-high 16 tackles (10 solo) and forced a fumble.

OFFENSE QUICK NOTES

  • Michigan State transfer Connor Dixon (South Park, Pa./South Park) won a spirited battle with returning starter Kevin Rombach (Harrisburg, Pa./Central Dauphin) for the starting quarterback position
  • Rombach completed a school record 61 percent of his passes for 2,410 yards and 20 touchdowns in his first season as a starter in 2007 and was a preseason first team All-NEC pick ... Rombach, who is 8-2 as a starter, has thrown for 25 scores with just eight interceptions in 13 games ... the 6-1, 205-pounder has a 153.6 career quarterback rating
  • Dixon, a sophomore, was the No. 2 QB at Michigan State last season ... the South Park, Pa. native played in one game for the Spartans before deciding to transfer closer to home in June ... Dixon, who was rated as a top 20 quarterback nationally (No. 17 by rivals.com) prior to committing to MSU, threw for 429 yards and a school record six touchdowns at Bucknell
  • With the move of Greg Hough (Gibsonia, Pa./Pine-Richland) from running back to linebacker, junior Cleodis Williams (Carlisle, Pa./Carlisle) has assumed the featured running back role... Williams, who missed the past two seasons while attending to academic issues, last saw action as a freshman in 2005
  • Starting offensive tackles Steve Kuhns (Lafayette, N.Y./Christian Brothers Academy) and Matt Kikta (Upper St. Clair, Pa./Upper St. Clair) have started every game in their DU careers (21 in a row entering Saint Francis) ... both started as true freshmen in 2006 ... Kuhns' first 20 starts came at left guard
  • Senior Alex Roberson (Waynesboro, Ga./Curtis Baptist Upper School), DU's top returning receiver, set career highs for catches (11) and yards (154) in the opener at Bucknell ... Roberson, who entered the season averaging 16.9 yards per catch for his career, averaged 20.2 yards on 34 catches last season.

DEFENSE QUICK NOTES

  • Duquesne returns seven players who started on defense in 2007 including one who moved back to the defensive side of the ball in ‘08
  • Senior Greg Hough (Gibsonia, Pa./Pine-Richland), Duquesne's leading ground gainer with 801 yards on 191 carries last season, is back at linebacker where he started in 2006 ... Hough, who has started 29 times (he's played in all 31 games since enrolling), returned an interception a school record 98 yards for a touchdown at La Salle in ‘06
  • Sophomore linebacker Nathan Totino (Pittsburgh, Pa./Seton-La Salle) ranked fourth nationally among FCS freshmen with an average of 9.3 tackles per game last season (93 stops in 10 games) ... Totino, who was named MAAC Rookie of the Week five times last year, was the 2007 MAAC co-Rookie of the Year ... he posted a career-high 16 tackles (10 solo) at Bucknell
  • Senior cornerback Aaron Strader (Pittsburgh, Pa./Westinghouse) was a preseason All-NEC pick ... Strader leads all DU returnees with 60 career solo tackles ... Strader was the MAAC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2005 and first team All-MAAC in 2006 & 2007
  • Junior defensive end Mykol Gardiner (Cleveland, Ohio/Benedictine) tied for 14th nationally with a .75 sacks per game average last season ... Gardiner entered the season with a team-high 14.0 career sacks for -99 yards ... Gardiner's 7.5 sacks last season were a team high
  • The 2-deep for the Saint Francis game lists two freshman starters on the defensive line (DT Alex Inda and DE Ashton Burno), two at linebacker (MLB Chidozie Oparanozie and OLB Wiley Brown) and two in the defensive backfield (SS Akeem Moore and CB Aaron Fitzpatrick).


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