Jerry Schmitt wasn’t overly concerned with where his Duquesne football team might be seeded to open the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs.
Over the past five years, the Dukes have been to just about every corner of the United States before the start of conference play.
“We’ve been all over,” said Schmitt, now in his 19th season coaching Duquesne. “The last few years we’ve been from Hawaii to Florida State to TCU, West Virginia — it doesn’t matter.”
When Duquesne opens its third FCS playoff run in school history, the trip won’t be quite so far.
The Northeast Conference champion Dukes (7-4) will open the postseason with a first-round game against Youngstown State (7-4) at 5 p.m. Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium. The NCAA revealed the FCS bracket Sunday afternoon.
The trip for Duquesne to play in its first FCS playoff game since 2018 will span about 65 miles just across the Pennsylvania border and into Northeast Ohio.
The Penguins, who finished in a four-way tie for third place in the Missouri Valley Conference, will be making their 13th all-time FCS playoff appearance and first since 2016.
“I follow a lot of these teams through the year in the standings and rankings,” Schmitt said. “We’ve played some of them.”
Duquesne’s coaching staff has somewhat recent experience in preparing for the postseason.
The Dukes first qualified for the FCS postseason in 2015 when they suffered a 52-49 first-round defeat at the hands of William & Mary. In 2018, Duquesne earned a 31-10 first-round win against Towson prior to bowing out of the playoffs with a 51-6 loss to eventual national semifinalist South Dakota State in the second round.
Schmitt said his team will be ready to play next weekend.
“You have to get all that film in and start working on it first thing … when you find out,” Schmitt said.
The winner of Saturday’s game will travel to Philadelphia to face No. 8 seed Villanova (9-2), the Coastal Athletic Association champion. The Wildcats earned the last of the first-round byes in the 24-team FCS field.
“It’s just a grind,” Schmitt said. “The preparation for the kids is the same through the week. For the coaches, it’s a lot more work.”
Youngstown State boasts two of the Missouri Valley Conference’s top playmakers on offense.
Running back Tyshon King has rushed for 894 yards, the third most in conference, and nine touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Mitch Davidson has completed 211-of-297 passes for 2,485 yards, 19 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Davidson, who has the fourth-most passing yards in the Missouri Valley Conference, utilizes wide receiver Bryce Oliver as his favorite target.
A 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior, Oliver has 53 receptions for 759 yards and seven touchdowns. His 25 career touchdown receptions are the most all time at Youngstown State.
Duquesne will counter with a well-balanced offense in its own right.
Junior quarterback Darius Perrantes, the NEC’s top passer, has completed 128-of-251 passes for 2,291 yards, 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
Wide receivers DJ Powell, Keshawn Brown and Tedy Afful will also draw plenty of attention from the Youngstown State secondary.
Powell has a team-high 702 yards and nine touchdowns on 33 receptions, while Brown has 35 catches for 660 yards and seven scores and Afful has accumulated 444 yards and five touchdowns.
“I’ve got tremendous confidence in this team,” Duquesne freshman running back Eddie Robinson said. “I don’t know how far we will go, the plan is to go all the way. That’s the plan. We’ll practice every day like it and play like it.”
The Dukes running game features three strong running backs in Robinson, Taj Butts and JaMario Clements.
Although Clements and Butts have dealt with injury issues as of late, the three are healthy heading into the postseason, Robinson said.
“It’s great for our offense,” he said. “We all stay fresh. It all keeps us fresh. When one back gets tired, the next back goes in. It’s consistently putting damage on the defense, pressure on the defense.”
Robinson has a team-high 631 rushing yards with seven touchdowns, while Butts has 525 yards and three scores and Clements has 456 yards and three touchdowns.
“Whoever has to line up across from us, that’s what we’re doing,” Robinson said. “Whoever it is, that’s just who it is. That’s who we are seeing that week.”
Robinson said the Dukes will lean on their ability to overcome adversity in the playoffs.
The Dukes had to defeat NEC second-place Merrimack on the road in North Andover, Mass., to secure a conference championship outright and automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
“When we get down, we’re not down,” Robinson said. “When we get high, we’re not too high. When we get in situations like that we keep composure and handle our business.”