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Other Colleges Football: Duquesne stomps Fairfield, 27-0

Dukes (11-0) to visit Albany for ECAC Classic Saturday

Sunday, November 17, 2002

By Phil Axelrod, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Duquesne's 27-0 victory against Fairfield at Rooney Field yesterday failed to measure up to the high standards the Dukes have set this season.

Duquesne wide receiver Loran Cooley beats Fairfield's Alex Warr to make a reception yesterday. However, a penalty against the Dukes nullified the catch. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

Duquesne was not sharp on offense. Too many penalties. Too few points.

"We've got to tidy up; it's important for us to stay sharp," Coach Greg Gattuso said. "The penalties were more a case of losing your edge. The other team is clinging for its life ... you lose some interest."

Fairfield (5-6, 5-3) is the second-place team in the MAAC, but the Stags provided little challenge for the Dukes (11-0, 8-0), who won 11 games in a season for the first time in school history.

The Dukes led, 21-0, in the first quarter, then turned things over to the defense, which posted its fourth shutout and limited Fairfield to 167 yards and 10 first downs.

"The defense, as a whole, we definitely don't get enough publicity," said Trent Wissner, a senior linebacker from Blackhawk. "Defense wins championships."

Duquesne won an unprecedented fourth consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship and will play Saturday at Albany, the Northeast Conference champion, in the ECAC Classic. The Dukes have won 24 consecutive games against MAAC opponents and have outscored eight league teams this season, 304-27.

The Dukes will face Albany without safety Joe Pavlick, whose left ankle was severely injured in the second quarter.

"Our offensive and defensive lines are so much better than anybody in the MAAC," Wissner said. "We're strong. When everybody comes to play, we feel we can shut out anybody in I-AA."

The Dukes are ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division I-AA Mid-Major and 24th in The Sports Network poll and 25th in the USA Today/ESPN poll. Both include scholarship, partial scholarship and non scholarship programs. Duquesne has an opportunity to become the first non-scholarship school to receive a bid to the 16-team I-AA playoffs.

Eight conference champions earn automatic bids and the eight at-large invitations will be offered Nov. 24.

"It would be real big for us to get invited," Wissner said. "For us to be the first, that would be an amazing accomplishment."

Just being in the Top 25 has given Duquesne's program a boost in credibility.

"We broke into the Top 25 and we're looked at as a lot different than before," said Bill Argobast, a senior defensive end who had 5 tackles for losses, including 3 sacks, 10 tackles overall and 2 forced fumbles. "Every week, we look to get a shutout. There's never been a game this season we didn't think we could stop our opponent."

Duquesne's offense was efficient, if not spectacular. Quarterback Niel Loebig, a sophomore from South Fayette, threw three touchdown passes to set a school record with 29 this season, surpassing Tony Zimmerman's 28 in 2000. Loebig completed 15 of 33 passes for 227 yards, including touchdowns of 13 yards to Jeremy Conley, 15 to Randy Vulakovich and 29 to Yardon Brantley.

Conley, who holds numerous school receiving records, didn't play in the second half after his left knee stiffened in the second quarter.

Mike Hilliard carried 32 times for 173 yards as the Dukes piled up 27 first downs and 448 yards. The Dukes had two touchdowns nullified by penalties.

"This team has outperformed every other team we've had," Gattuso said. "Next week's game will be a topper for them."

As for the possibility of participating in the national playoffs, Gattuso said: "We can present a good argument [for getting a bid]. This is a chance for them to include a lot of teams they've excluded. It's a chance for them to drag another major market into the playoffs for exposure."

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

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