PITTSBURGH, Pa. An opportunistic Duquesne squad scored three defensive touchdowns in the final 5 minutes of the opening quarter and went on to hand West Liberty a frustrating 27-14 setback Saturday afternoon at Rooney Field.
The Dukes (2-2) needed those scores to overcome another sterling performance by the Hilltopper defense, which held their NCAA Division I FCS hosts to just 305 yards of total offense and 193 passing yards both season-lows.
West Liberty (2-3) jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead when CB Omar Crawford intercepted the first pass of the game by Duquesne QB Dillon Buechel to set the Hilltopper offense up at the Dukes' 15.
Senior Tyler Tucci, making his first career start at quarterback, flipped a swing pass out to speedy WR Dylan Potts who turned the corner and darted down the left sideline for a 15-yard TD. Bryan Arbes' PAT made it 7-0 Hilltoppers less than 90 seconds into the game.
Following a stop by the WLU defense, Tucci led the Hilltoppers on another lengthy drive into Duquesne territory only to see Dukes DB Nick Floyd step in front of a pass at his own 29 and run it all the way back for a 71-yard touchdown, tying the game at 7-7 with 4:09 on the first quarter clock.
A penalty on the ensuing kickoff backed the Hilltoppers up inside their own 10. On third-and-13 from the WLU 6, Tucci lost a fumble on a hit in the end zone and Duquesne DT Zach Zidian recovered for a touchdown with 2:38 left in the opening quarter.
The backbreaker came on the final play of the first quarter when Tucci's attempted screen pass was intercepted behind the line of scrimmage by DE Dane O'Driscoll, who returned it 33 yards to paydirt. The PAT failed but West Liberty had dug itself into a 20-7 hole with three quarters remaining.
Sophomore QB Dylan Lagarde came on to start the second quarter but the Hilltoppers turned to the ground game to mount their longest drive of the day. Six straight running plays and a late hit penalty gave WLU a first down at the Duquesne 18. Three more runs set up fourth-and-1 from the 9 but the Dukes stuffed a fourth-down run to turn the ball over on downs.
Buechel, who was coming off a 362-yard passing game against nationally-ranked Youngstown State, found the Hilltopper secondary to be a bit less accommodating. A redshirt freshman, Buechel had thrown only one interception all year but West Liberty picked off three of his throws on Saturday including a diving grab by LB Marcus Schumacher to snuff out the Dukes' final drive of the half at the WLU 7.
The Hilltoppers threatened again midway through the third quarter but came away empty-handed when a 40-yard Bryan Arbes field goal attempt twisted just wide. West Liberty DE Sam Robinson short-circuited another Dukes' threat late in the third quarter when he intercepted an attempted screen pass at his own 14 but the Hilltoppers couldn't take advantage.
Buechel all but put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter with an 18-yard TD pass to speedy WR Chris King. That made it 27-7 with 13:14 remaining but West Liberty wouldn't go away quietly.
Following an exchange of punts, Potts made a leaping catch while splitting a pair of Duquesne defenders on a short pass from Lagarde and outraced the secondary to finish off a 48-yard TD pass. Arbes' PAT cut the gap to 27-14 with 3:53 remaining but the Dukes recovered the onside kick and the Hilltoppers never threatened again.
Lagarde and Tucci combined to complete 19-of-30 passes for 195 yards with two interceptions and two TDs. Potts was the leading receiver with 8 catches for 94 yards and the two scores but freshman H-Back Tyler Peterson also impressed with 7 catches for 45 yards and a 20-yard run. Freshman Marty Bishop was the game's leading rusher with 81 yards on 22 carries.
Buechel completed 17-of-26 passes for 193 yards with one TD and three interceptions. King led all receivers with 10 catches for 127 yards with TB Ryan Ho rushing for 70 yards on 18 carries.
West Liberty returns to Mountain East Conference action next Saturday with a 2 p.m. game at Fairmont State.