It’s a battle between a pair of teams looking to earn their spot in the FCS playoffs when they meet in the NEC title game. The Sacred Heart Pioneers are on the road as they make the trip to face the #25 Duquesne Dukes Sunday afternoon. Sacred Heart was supposed to face Wagner on March 28 but had that game postponed. The Pioneers beat Merrimack 26-9 at home on March 21 in their most recent game. Duquesne knocked off Bryant 20-10 on the road on March 28 in their previous contest. Both teams were off last week. The Dukes lead the all-time series between the programs 12-4 and took a 30-27 home victory in the most recent matchup, which came just over a month ago on March 7.
Sacred Heart Pioneers Looking to Earn Playoff BerthSacred Heart has been off for three weeks since their victory at home over Merrimack back on March 21. The Pioneers enter this game 2-1 overall and 2-1 in NEC action after that victory. They look to avenge their loss to the Dukes from their meeting last month on the road. Against Merrimack, Sacred Heart led 7-0 after the opening quarter and saw the game tied on the first play of the second quarter before taking care of business. The Pioneers reeled off 19 unanswered points as they didn’t surrender another point until a safety with one minute remaining in the contest. Sacred Heart rolled up a 400-181 edge in total offense, picked up 23 first downs while allowing 13 and held a 30:52 to 29:08 margin in time of possession.
The Pioneers have been an effective offensive team as they average 201.7 yards per game through the air. In addition, Sacred Heart picks up a solid 233.3 yards per game on the ground and 4.9 yards per carry on the year. The Pioneers put up an average of 29.3 points per contest while they have been stingy defensively, giving up 15.3 points per game. Marquez McCray has completed 44 of 69 passes for 592 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions on the season. He is second on the team in rushing with 93 yards this season. Julius Chestnut is the feature back as he has 68 carries for 544 yards and seven scores on the ground. Malik Grant is next in line with 25 carries for 82 yards. Naseim Brantley leads the team with 10 receptions for 127 yards plus a score. Rob DiNota (eight grabs, 92 yards, TD) and Kenneth Womack (eight receptions, 85 yards) are next in line. Sam Renzi is seven of 10 on extra points and two of three on field-goal attempts with a long of 33 this season. Noah Gettman hit his lone extra-point attempt and has not attempted a field goal this year.
Duquesne Dukes Try to Remain UnbeatenDuquesne beat Bryant in their last contest to remain unbeaten on the year. The Dukes are 4-0 on the season and look to earn a second win over Sacred Heart by prevailing in this contest to reach the FCS playoffs. Against Bryant, Duquesne took the lead for good with under five minutes to play in the first half and went on to the victory. The Dukes were up 13-7 at intermission, 13-10 after three quarters and put the game away with a five-play, 55-yard drive that ended with a touchdown with 10 minutes to play. Duquesne was outgained 307-295, gave up 17 first downs while picking up 14 and lost the time of possession by a 31:37 to 28:23 margin. The Dukes did win the turnover battle 2-1 and came up with the stops when they needed to defensively.
On the season, the Dukes are averaging 215 yards per game through the air while they are grinding out 179.3 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry on the ground. Duquesne is a solid team on both sides of the ball as they average 25.5 points per contest on the offensive side of things. Defensively, the Dukes give up only 13.5 points per contest with only 27 points allowed in their last three games. Joe Mischler has completed 62 of 90 passes for 860 yards with six touchdown passes and three interceptions on the year. He adds 34 yards and a score on the ground. Garrett Owens leads the team with 83 carries for 403 yards and five scores this season. Billy Lucas (44 carries, 187 yards, TD) and Ky’ren Cunningham (13 carries, 78 yards) are next in line. In the passing game, Davie Henderson leads the team with 18 catches for 221 yards. Cyrus Holder (15 grabs, 360 yards, four TD) and Joey Isabella (11 receptions, 118 yards) are good secondary options. Brian Bruzdewicz has hit 12 of 13 extra-point attempts and four of five field-goal attempts with a long of 33 this season.
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Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
We saw these teams open up spring football with a three-point win by Duquesne though they were up comfortably before giving up a pair of fourth-quarter scores. The second one came with 15 seconds left to make the game closer than it may have been. Since that point, Duquesne has clamped down defensively as they gave up the same number of points in the last three games (27) as they did in the opener against the Pioneers. Sacred Heart is going to lean on Chestnut as they did in the first meeting but this Duquesne defense is stingier than they were in the opener. Playing at home, give the Dukes the edge as they punch their ticket to the playoffs.
Full-Game Total Pick
We haven’t seen a ton of big point numbers on either side this season. Sacred Heart saw their season-high for a point total in the opener with Duquesne as the teams totaled 57 points. Since then, the Pioneers saw their totals drop to 42 and 35 points, respectively, in the last two games. Likewise, Duquesne’s season-high total for points came in the opener when they saw a combined 57 points with Sacred Heart. The Dukes’ totals have been 17, 52 and 30 points since then in the last three weeks. This one is going to be more defensively oriented and as a result, look for this one to end up falling under the total.