Pioneers Top Wagner 41-14 in Convincing Fashion to Win NEC Opener

Pioneers Top Wagner 41-14 in Convincing Fashion to Win NEC Opener

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - The Sacred Heart University football team moved to 3-0 on the season with a convincing 41-14 victory on Saturday night at Wagner in the Northeast Conference opener for both teams. The Pioneers limited the Seahawks (1-3, 0-1 NEC) to just 297 yards of total offense. Fifth-year senior quarterback Kevin Duke threw for 322 yards and a career-high four touchdowns on 17-of-29 passing, while adding another score on the ground.

First-year receiver Naseim Brantley had three catches for 118 yards, including two touchdown receptions of 45 yards and 62 yards. Fellow first-year Troy Holland had two catches for 68 yards and one score, RJ Trimble-Edwards added a touchdown reception, plus a sack on defense, and senior tailback Jordan Meachum added 76 yards rushing and one touchdown.

Defensively, junior Mike Wilen tallied a game-high 13 tackles, Salaam Horne had 10 tackles and one interception, and SHU collected three sacks courtesy of Chris Agyemang, Aaron Donalson and Trimble-Edwards. The Pioneer defense allowed just 147 yards on the ground, and held All-American back Ryan Fulse to 161 net rushing yards and no touchdowns. SHU has now held their opponents to under 300 yards of total offense in each of their first three games.

FIRST QUARTER

  • First-year Lucas Nunez got the game going by taking the opening kickoff back 94 yards to the Wagner six-yard line. Duke handled it from there, running it in from four yards out two plays later to give SHU the early 7-0 lead.
  • After the SHU defense forced punts on two consecutive possessions, the offense took over for its third drive. After a penalty wiped out a SHU touchdown pass, the Pios faced a fourth down and one at the four-yard line following a 16-yard run on third down by Meachum. Duke picked up the first down on a QB keeper.
  • Three plays later, Duke threw a strike to Trimble-Edwards who caught the pass behind the defender for his second-career touchdown, giving Sacred Heart the 14-0 lead with 12:33 left until halftime. The score capped a 17-play, 60 yard drive covering 7:19. 

SECOND QUARTER

  • Wagner wasted no time, responding with a three-play 59-yard drive over 1:12 to cut the lead in half at 14-7 with 11:13 left until halftime. Fulse set up the score with a 38-yard run on the first play after the kickoff, and Adam Giordano scored on a 16-yard pass.
  • After forcing a Wagner punt near midfield, SHU got the ball back at their own eight-yard line. with 6:07 left in the half. Julius Chestnut had a big drive with a 14-yard reception and four rushes totaling 26 yards, including a 12-yard rush on third-down-and-six. On first down from the Wagner 45, Duke lofted one deep downfield to a wide-open Brantley who marched into the end zone for his first-career reception and touchdown, capping an eight play, 92-yard drive.
  • On the following drive, Salaam Horne picked off a deep pass downfield to get SHU the ball back at its own 23 with 1:23 left until halftime.
  • SHU struck quickly to extend their commanding lead going into halftime. After five plays, Duke connected on back-to-back passes to Nunez, the first for eight yards to the Wagner 42, then a deep ball that Nunez hauled in for a leaping 41-yard reception, diving down to the one-yard line.
  • Meachum finished the drive off on the next play, pushing the pile into the end zone for a one-yard run that gave SHU a 28-7 lead going into the locker room.

THIRD QUARTER

  • Senior Austin Bailey broke around the right side and blocked the 46-yard field goal attempt on Wagner's first possession of the third quarter, thwarting the Seahawks' scoring attempt.
  • Wagner's defense forced a three-and-out before getting within 28-14 on the ensuing drive, going 54 yards on 12 plays. All 54-yards came on the ground, with Fulse rushing for 53 yards, before quarterback T.J. Linta snuck in in from one yard out.
  • After the teams traded punts, SHU took over at its own 22-yard line and promptly found the endzone two plays later. Duke rolled out and found Ed Cuddahy for his first career reception, good for a 16-yard completion. On the next play, Duke hit Holland in stride behind the secondary, who went 62 yards to pay dirt for his first career touchdown. The extra point attempt clanged off the left upright, leaving the score 34-14 at the 1:59 mark.

FOURTH QUARTER

  • Wagner took over at its own 45, driving to the SHU seven before being stopped on fourth-down-and-goal byWilen and Chris Outterbridge.
  • SHU capped off its scoring on its next drive when Duke delivered his fourth touchdown pass, finding Brantley for the second time down the left sideline for a 62-yard catch and run.

QUOTABLES: Head Coach Mark Nofri

"I like the way we started when we had the big returned the opening kickoff. I've coached a lot of teams and for whatever reason, this team has a lot of energy, chemistry, they pull for one another and there's no animosity or finger-pointing. They're just a great bunch of kids to be around and they're fun to coach. When things are clicking on all cylinders, things feel pretty good."

"We've thrown a lot of these freshmen into the fire and seeing how they perform. They're answering the bell and that's what you want from your freshmen. You like to bring them along slowly, and they're going to have growing pains, but so far, they're doing what we've asked them to do and hopefully they keep playing hard and doing what the coaches are teaching them."

Next up, the Pioneers will travel to Cornell next Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff in Ithaca, N.Y. Live coverage of the game will be available on ESPNPlus.