Impactful defense and effective quarterback play resulted in two historic victories for Northeast Conference football teams on Saturday afternoon.
With all-NEC starting quarterback Joe Mischler sidelined by injury, Duquesne’s Darius Perrantes accounted for a 66.7 completion percentage and two touchdowns in a 28-26 victory over MAC member Ohio.
After Brian Bruzdewicz’s fourth field goal of the day bumped the lead to 28-20 late in the fourth quarter, the Dukes needed one final defensive impact play to secure the program’s first-ever victory over a FBS opponent.
Ohio found the end zone with 00:09 remaining, but Duquesne denied the game-tying two-point conversion attempt.
Merrimack starting quarterback Westin Elliott completed 68.6 percent of his passes and threw a pair of touchdowns to spoil Patriot League preseason favorite Holy Cross’ home opener.
The Warriors’ defense limited the Crusaders to six first downs passing and Anthony Witherstone’s second-quarter 30-yard interception return touchdown gave Merrimack a lead that it never relinquished.
The 35-21 triumph is Merrimack’s first-ever win over a FCS top-25 team and it happened only one week after Holy Cross posted a 10-point victory at FBS member UConn. The Warriors also ran the ball effectively with Victor Dawson gaining 111 yards on 19 carries.
Christian Kuntz never accepted “No” for an answer.
First, there was the ACL tear following his All-American sophomore season at Duquesne.
Following a year-long rehabilitation, Kuntz responded with two more All-American seasons in a Dukes’ uniform.
Kuntz, the 2015 FCS ADA National Linebacker of the Year, became one of the most-feared edge rushers in the entire Football Championship Subdivision. He possessed great football instincts and twice won the NEC Defensive Player of the Year award. Surely, the NFL was in his future?
While his collegiate resume pushed him onto the NFL radar, he went undrafted in 2017 despite boasting an immensely productive body of work.
Kuntz’s detractors in the scouting community pointed to his “lack of size” for a NFL edge rusher and his “lack of speed” for a pass-defending linebacker.
Surprisingly, Kuntz did not receive an opportunity until late in the 2017 NFL Preseason when the New England Patriots signed him to a UDFA contract, only to waive him later that week.
Jobless during the 2017 season, Kuntz embarked on a position change and began grooming himself to become a reliable long snapper.
With long snapping being a talent unto itself, not many pro snappers possess the same eye-popping instincts that are synonymous with elite defenders. Kuntz’s roots, however, make him better suited than most to get down the field in punt coverage and make tackles.
Having added a new skill to his arsenal, he signed with the Denver Broncos in March 2018. After a few months in their offseason program, Kuntz was released and on the move again.
Unsigned until December of that year, Kuntz landed on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad for the final two weeks of the regular season and was signed to a reserve/futures deal.
After working through the Jaguars’ 2019 offseason program, Kuntz found himself on the waiver wire again in June prior to the start of training camp.
Still, the best was yet to come for the Western Pennsylvania product.
Midway through August 2019, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Kuntz and the Duquesne alumnus proceeded to log five tackles and a sack in the team’s preseason finale.
Despite the strong showing, the roster bubble burst on him.
Kuntz was without a 53-man roster spot for the 2019 NFL regular season, but he was far from finished.
The linebacker-turned-long snapper landed in the XFL with the Dallas Renegades in early 2020 and impressed enough to earn another chance with the Steelers.
Kuntz was signed by Pittsburgh on March 30, 2020 and worked through another NFL offseason program before being waived on August 2.
The relentless kid from the Pittsburgh suburbs kept at it though.
Late in the 2020 regular season, Kuntz served two short stints on the Steelers’ practice squad before signing a futures/reserve contract on January 14, 2021.
Now all he had to do was beat out an incumbent starter at a position where turnover happens less than regularly.
To no Duquesne fan’s surprise, Kuntz did just that.
He spent much of the last two seasons on the practice squad, but Tom Kennedy has earned a promotion in Detroit. Bryant’s former all-NEC receiver performed well enough during the 2021 NFL Preseason to earn a spot on the Lions’ initial 53-man roster. He has played in one NFL regular season game, becoming the first-ever Bryant alumnus to do so when he suited up for Detroit against
SEAHAWKS, STAND UP
Three Wagner Seahawks made the cut when initial NFL 53-man rosters were published.
Julian Stanford, a former all-NEC linebacker, will spend his ninth NFL season as a special teams ace with the Carolina Panthers.
Despite battling injury during the preseason, former two-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year Cam Gill earned a spot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ roster for the second straight year.
The two-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year made the Bucs’ 53-man roster as a rookie UDFA in 2020. He saw on-field action during Tampa’s victory in Super Bowl 55, but Gill has missed numerous reps this preseason due to injury. Normally, his roster status would not be in question, but his lack of preseason availability is something to monitor. Whether or not he fits into the Bucs’ plans for Opening Day, the organization clearly liked Gill enough to award him defensive snaps in the Super Bowl.
Christian Kuntz, LS (Duquesne) – Pittsburgh Steelers
Kuntz made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks as a collegiate linebacker, but he has transitioned to a long snapper at the professional level. The former three-time DI FCS All-American has bounced around the NFL training camp circuit and spent time in both the AAF and XFL. Kuntz’s tireless efforts could pay off in the form of a 53-man roster spot this time around. He spent time on the Steelers’ practice squad late in the 2020 season and signed a futures/reserve contract in January. Kuntz has seen a healthy number of reps at long snapper throughout Steelers’ camp and appears to be in a position battle with incumbent Kameron Canaday.
Tom Kennedy, WR (Bryant) – Detroit Lions
Kennedy, who has spent each of the past two seasons on the Lions’ Practice Squad and was active for one regular season game in 2019, has led his team in receiving yards during each of the first two preseason games. The former dual-sport college star may be playing his way into the Lions’ regular season receivers rotation. Kennedy made a 29-yard reception to set up a late, go-ahead field against Buffalo in Preseason Week 1. The following week, the Bryant alumnus produced gainers of 31 and 25 yards at Pittsburgh.
Jake Dolegala, QB (Central Connecticut) – Green Bay Packers
The all-time leading passer in CCSU history enters his third NFL season after spending much on the 2020 campaign on the New England Patriots’ practice squad. Dolegala, who spent the entire 2019 season on the Cincinnati Bengals’ 53-man roster after signing as a rookie UDFA, has bounced in between Green Bay and New England this offseason/preseason. The Packers resigned prior to Preseason Game 2, adding an arm in the wake of Jordan Love’s injury. Dolegala entered the game in the waning minutes of the Packers’ 23-14 loss to the New York Jets. He has NFL measurables and big-league arm strength that will continue to intrigue the Packers and others in the months ahead.
Initially landing at Wagner on a basketball scholarship, Senat made a successful transition to the gridiron where he started two seasons for the Seahawks. Senat, a former Baltimore Ravens’ sixth-round draft pick who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad during their Super Bowl 54 championship season. In 2020, Senat signed with Dallas and saw action in 10 regular season games. Having since moved onto Cleveland, the 6-foot-6 Empire State product is battling for a spot on the Browns’ 53-man roster as a swing tackle.
Since landing with Jacksonville as a rookie in 2012, Stanford has established himself as a special teams ace. He earned six regular season starts at linebacker during his first year with the Jaguars, but has spent much his 104-game career as a contributor on special teams. After playing the 2018 and 2019 campaigns with the Buffalo Bills, Stanford continued his NFL career in Carolina last year. The Panthers used him heavily on special teams, where he logged seven tackles. This past offseason, Carolina signed Stanford to another one-year deal. He has been banged up during the preseason, but appears back at full strength now according to reports.
Williams developed into a NFL prospect during his time at Wagner, benefitting from the tutelage of position coach (and NFL veteran) Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton. The Empire State product signed a UDFA deal with the Colts following the 2020 NFL Draft and spent the ensuing season on the team’s practice squad. Listed on Indianapolis’ depth chart as a nose tackles, Williams has been battling for an active roster spot all summer long. He was credited with a tackle in the Colts’ recent 12-10 win over the Vikings. Pro Football Focus tracked Williams on a team-high 27 pass-rushing snaps in the Preseason Week 2 contest. Williams made two stops in the Colts’ preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers. After the game, he caught up with the aforementioned Terrance Knighton who is in his first season on the Carolina coaching staff.
It’s the ultimate pre-draft all-star game and it has eyes on Northeast Conference football.
On an annual basis, the Reese’s Senior Bowl provides an opportunity for elite draft prospects from around the country to showcase their talent and connect with coaches and decision-makers from all 32 NFL teams.
Sacred Heart running back Julius Chestnut and Merrimack cornerback Darion McKenzie may earn the chance to attend the week-long festivities in Mobile, AL this coming February. The two players appear on the official Reese’s Senior Bowl Watch List heading into the 2021 fall season.
Chestnut comes off a spring season that saw him finish third overall in the Stats Perform Walter Payton Award voting. He totaled 888 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns in four games against NEC opponents. In a NCAA FCS playoff game, the 6-foot-1 do-it-all running back rushed for 138 yards and one touchdown against No. 5 Delaware.
Chestnut will enter his fourth collegiate season with 3,063 career rush yards over a 28-game span. He averages 5.75 yards per carry.
McKenzie made Merrimack’s lone interception in a game against Sacred heart this past spring. In 2019, the 6-foot-2 cornerback appeared in nine games and totaled 11 pass break-ups.
Should Chestnut and/or McKenzie impress enough to earn an official invitation, they would join a short list of NEC invitees.
In 2017, Saint Francis safety Lorenzo Jerome became the first-ever NEC athlete to earn a spot in the Senior Bowl.
Jerome, a four-time all-NEC first team honoree, performed exceptionally well during the all-star game, intercepting two passes and forcing a fumble. He went on to sign a post-draft contract with the San Francisco 49ers, and he currently competes for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
During the 2020 NFL Draft process, Wagner’s Cam Gill (LB) and Chris Williams (DL) were invited to the East-West Shrine Game. Gill went onto sign an undrafted free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played in Super Bowl 55. Williams spent the 2020 NFL season on the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad and is battling for a spot on the 53-man roster this summer.
Brendon Rodney has joined Christie Pearce in an elite club of Northeast Conference alumni.
The Canadian sprinter medaled in a second consecutive Olympic Games, matching the feat achieved by the former US Women’s Soccer captain.
Rodney, a LIU alumnus who holds the all-time NEC 100m and 200m records, earned his first Olympic medal in 2016 when he helped Canada’s 4x100m men’s relay team secure bronze.
The former 200m Canadian champion again earned a spot on nation’s 4x100m team for the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
In Tokyo, Rodney ran the third leg in both the qualifying and final rounds. He and his mates clocked in at 37.70 for the final, finishing third behind Italy (37.50) and Great Britain (37.51).
Rodney narrowly missed qualifying for the men’s 200m semifinals earlier in the week. He ran 20.60 in the first round (Heat 7).
Pearce, a NEC Hall of Famer who led Monmouth to conference titles in 1995 and 1996, enjoyed a legendary 19-year career with the US Women’s Soccer National Team. She ranks third all-time in career appearances (311) and played in four straight Olympics.
Following a silver at the 2000 Sydney Games, Pearce and her mates collected three consecutive gold medals (2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, 2012 London).