PITTSBURGH - Trailing 27-14 with under seven minutes to play, the Central Connecticut State football team scored the game’s final 14 points and claimed its fifth Northeast Conference Championship with a 28-27 road victory at Duquesne on Saturday afternoon.
The win is the seventh straight for the Blue Devils, their longest winning streak since the 1967 season, as Central earns the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA FCS playoffs.
The Dukes drove the length of the field in the final minute of the game, but missed a 19-yard field goal as time expired and the Blue Devils claimed their first league title since the 2010 season. Next week they’ll look to post their first-ever unbeaten record in league play.
The Blue Devils dominated the first quarter and held the ball for over 11 minutes while limiting the Dukes to just six offensive plays.
They took a 7-0 lead with 13:48 left in the second quarter on the third rushing touchdown of the season from junior quarterback Jacob Dolegala. The 1-yard scoring run capped a nine-play drive that went for 56 yards.
After the Blue Devils forced the third punt of the game by the Dukes, they wasted little time pushing the score to 14-0 with 9:00 left in the second quarter.
Dolegala found junior Courtney Rush for a 36-yard touchdown pass to cap a quick 79-yard drive that took just 2:29 off the clock.
The Dukes cut the CCSU lead in half, 14-7, with 1:27 left in the second quarter.
The 85-yard drive came after a fake field goal attempt by the Blue Devils that went incomplete. Duquesne quarterback Tommy Stuart hit Nehari Crawford for the 22-yard score to end the drive and get the home team on the board for the first time in the game.
The teams traded punts in the second half before the second turnover of the day by the Blue Devils helped the Dukes tie the game. On a third down play, Dolegala was sacked and fumbled. The Dukes recovered on the CCSU 7 and needed just one play to score, a 7-yard run from A.J. Hines, to tie the game at 14 with 4:04 left in the third quarter.
Duquesne took their first lead of the game when Stuart hit Crawford for his second touchdown with 12:27 left in the fourth quarter. The play ended an 87-yard drive for the Dukes, but the point after was wide left and Duquesne led 20-14.
The Blue Devils drove quickly to the Duquesne 39-yard line on the next possession, but a sack and fumble on Dolegala led to the third turnover of the game for CCSU and Duquesne took over possession. Two plays later, Hines ran it in from 45 yards out for his second touchdown of the game and the 27-14 lead.
The Blue Devils cut the lead to 27-21 on a seven-play drive that went 93 yards and took just 1:33 off the clock. Dolegala rushed it in from 16 yards out for his second scoring run of the day as the Blue Devils cut the lead to six with 5:16 on the clock.
After a great defensive stop by the Blue Devils, a poor punt from Duquesne gave Central tremendous field position on its final drive.
Dolegala hit senior running back Cameron Nash with an 18-yard scoring pass to give the Blue Devils the 28-27 lead.
Duquesne drove the length of the field and lined up for the potential game-winner. It was wide left, and with two seconds left on the clock the Blue Devils took a knee in victory formation to claim their fifth league title.
Dolegala finished the game 21-of-33 for 276 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. He also rushed for a pair of touchdowns. Nash rushed 19 times for 90 yards and caught a touchdown. Courtney Rush caught five passes for 82 yards and Jose Garcia grabbed five for 80, including a key catch in the fourth quarter to keep a scoring drive alive.
Kenneth Keen led the defense with nine tackles, including two for loss. Seth Manzanares and Randall Laguerre each added seven stops for the defense.
The Blue Devils will finish the regular season next Saturday at home vs. Robert Morris at noon.