by Dillon Meehan
Central Connecticut football struggled offensively for most of its rainy homecoming game Saturday against Duquesne. But two late fourth quarter drives saw the Blue Devils nearly mount a ferocious comeback before falling to the Dukes 28-20.
“We didn’t battle early enough,” said head coach Pete Rossomando. “If we’d battled in the third quarter we would have been in it instead of fighting from behind.”
With just under eight minutes left in the fourth, the Blue Devils trailed Duquesne (4-2, 1-0 NEC) 28-13. Blue Devil junior quarterback Nick SanGiacomo found sophomore tight end Matt Braddock for a career long 51-yard reception, setting up senior running back Rob Holloman to punch it in from 13 yards out to cut the lead to eight.
After a short kickoff return, the CCSU defense forced a three-and-out by Duquesne, highlighted by a sack from senior linebacker Josh Alaeze, forcing the Dukes to hand the ball back to the Blue Devils with five minutes left to play.
With the ball at the Duquesne 48-yard line, Central again began its comeback attempt.
On first down, Holloman broke free for a 23-yard run. SanGiacomo then found Braddock for a 15-yard gain. After a short Hollomon run to put the ball on the seven-yard line, the Blue Devils had three chances to score. But three straight incompletions from SanGiacomo to Tyrell Holmes forced CCSU to turn the ball over on downs, ending the hope of a comeback.
“We just continued to fight,” said Hollomon of the comeback effort. “The ball didn’t fall our way but we have to keep fighting to go in the right direction.”
The Dukes’ high-powered offense ended up being too much for the Blue Devils to handle. Duquesne quarterback Dillon Buechel threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns, three of which went to Chris King, who finished with nine catches for 147 yards.
Offensively, the Blue Devils were one-dimensional: SanGiacomo was just 9-for-22 for 125 yards with an interception. Despite the passing woes, Holloman ran for 131 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. He finished with 198 all-purpose yards.
Holloman reached another milestone in the loss. Just two weeks after breaking 3,000 career-rushing yards, he crossed the 5,000 all-purpose yard mark for his career. He is now just 81 yards short of shy of Stan House’s CCSU record of 3,347 rushing yards.
Duquesne started off strong against CCSU after Devin Rahming made a leaping catch to save the drive on a third-and-six play; Buechel then hit Rahming again for another big gain of nearly 30 yards to the 21-yard line. Buechel, after a run fake, threw to a wide-open Chris King who made a nice double move for 21-yard touchdown.
However, CCSU immediately answered. SanGiacomo found Holloman on a short throw, which picked up over 25 yards after the catch for a 30-yard gain. Brenden Lytton came in to replace Holloman and took off 39 yards to tie the game at seven. It was Lytton’s first touchdown of his career.
The Dukes’ second score came after SanGiacomo had his pass intercepted by Malik Shegog. The Dukes drove down the field and Buechel found King on a slant from seven yards out for his second score of the game.
Down 14-7 with less than four minutes in the first half, the CCSU defense gave the offense a chance to tie it up. With the ball deep in their own zone, the Dukes handed the ball off to Rafiq Douglas who was instantly hit by senior safety Chris Abner and forced a fumble, which was recovered by CCSU at the 10-yard line. The Dukes defense was stout and held the Blue Devils to an Ed Groth field goal to make it 14-10 with just under a minute and a half left to play.
Duquesne made it a two score game in the third quarter after an 85-yard drive that included big throws to Dave Thomas and King for 23 and 39 yards, respectively. Buechel found Rahming in the end zone to make it 21-10.
Groth cut the deficit to eight after a 24-yard field goal; it was set up after Duquesne’s Trenton Cole was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for shoving Holmes to the ground. It marked the first time Groth has had two field goals in the same game this season.
Duquesne’s final score came after another long drive. Douglas had two first down runs, one going for 21 yards. Buechel then found Chris King who made an impressive leaping grab for a 20-yard touchdown — his third — making it 28-13.
Central will look to bounce back next Saturday on the road at Robert Morris (0-6, 0-1 NEC).