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Other Colleges Football: Dukes shake off slow start to rip St. John's, 63-7

Sunday, October 20, 2002

By Phil Axelrod, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Midway through the first quarter, the players from St. John's were jumping up and down on the sideline. On the other side of Rooney Field, Duquesne's Dukes were standing around shuffling their feet.

"They were prepared and excited," Duquesne Coach Greg Gattuso said. "We weren't sharp."

About three hours later, Duquesne's players were smiling and exchanging high-fives. The Red Storm was hanging their heads.

Duquesne's 63-7 victory against St. John's yesterday was the 20th consecutive win against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opponents for the Dukes, who are ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division I-AA Mid-Major and coasting to their fourth consecutive league title. With the final four regular-season games against the league's weaker teams, Duquesne almost is guaranteed a spot in the ECAC Bowl at the home of the Northeast Conference champion.

The Dukes, 7-0 and 4-0 in the MAAC, handed the Red Storm (1-5, 1-3) its fifth loss in a row.

Duquesne's Niel Loebig shook off a sluggish start to complete 9 of 20 passes for 217 yards and four touchdowns, freshman tailback Kyle Postell rushed for a career-high 139 yards on 22 carries and scored his first two collegiate touchdowns and Yardon Brantley caught two touchdown passes.

But it was the defense -- senior cornerback Leigh Bodden, in particular -- that hogged the spotlight by holding St. John's to 110 yards and minus-5 rushing on 32 attempts. Bodden had two interceptions to give him 24 for his career and a tie for fourth among the NCAA Division I-AA all-time leaders. Dave Murphy of Holy Cross leads with 28 set from 1986-89.

Duquesne entered with the stingiest defense in Division I-AA, allowing 193.7 yards per game.

If there is such a thing as a play that turned around a 56-point victory, it was made by Bodden with the Dukes trailing, 7-0, in the first quarter. Bodden intercepted a pitch by St. John's quarterback Matt Millheiser on an option and high-stepped 29 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.

"That's the play that did it, got us going," Gattuso said. "We were waiting for them to run that play." He grinned, then added, "But we didn't know Bodden would do that. He does great things."

Loebig's 18-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Conley later in the first quarter made it 14-7. Mike Hilliard ran 9 yards for a 21-7 lead in the second quarter and Loebig's 15-yard pass to Brantley with 26 seconds left in the half pushed Duquesne's advantage to 28-7 at intermission.

"Even up, 28-7, we were a little frustrated because we thought we should have scored more," Gattuso said. "We challenged them to play up to our level and forget who the opponent is. I can only ask them to give me their best effort."

Linebacker Trent Wissner returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the third quarter to signal that the rout officially was in progress. The touchdowns came fast and furiously for the Dukes, who played much of the third quarter and all of the fourth with reserves.

"We desperately needed to get some young guys in the game," Gattuso said.

Postell scored on runs of 1 and 17 yards and Loebig threw touchdown passes of 49 yards to Michel Warfield and 45 yards to Yardon Brantley.

Phil Axelrod can be reached at paxelrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1967.

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