For all of Duquesne’s success in basketball, from winning the NIT in 1955 to Derrick Colter headlining the first All-ASN Team this year, the Dukes once made their name in football.
From 1933-42, Duquesne was among the elite teams in college football, compiling the sixth-highest winning percentage (71-22-2, .762) in the nation behind Alabama, Tennessee, Duke, Fordham and Notre Dame.
The Dukes hired Elmer Layden, one of Notre Dame’s legendary Four Horsemen, in 1927. He led the Dukes to a 9-0-1 record in 1929 and a 33-7 victory against Miami (Fla.) in the 1933 Festival of Palms Bowl, renamed the Orange Bowl in 1934.
Layden is credited with devising the system of hand signals officials use today. His success signaled the start of a dominant decade for Duquesne football, culminating with the event judged the greatest in school history — the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1937.
During the 1936 season, Duquesne finished 8-2, including a 7-0 victory in the rain against rival Pitt. It was the Dukes’ fourth consecutive shutout, and following two losses (2-0 and 14-7) they closed out the season with three shutouts in a row to earn a berth in the Orange Bowl.
Center Mike Basrak became Duquesne’s first player to earn first team All-America honors.
In the Orange Bowl, according to the Associated Press, “Boyd Brumbaugh, big, blond halfback from Springdale, Pa., was the hero of the game.”
Brumbaugh scored in the second quarter on a 1-yard run and kicked the extra point to give Duquesne a 7-6 lead against Mississippi State. Brumbaugh’s kick turned out to be decisive.
Mississippi State led 12-7 late in the fourth quarter when Duquesne scored on one of the greatest plays in Orange Bowl history — Brumbaugh’s 72-yard touchdown pass for to Ernie Hefferle. AP picks up the story:
It was Duquesne’s ball in its own territory, when Brumbaugh stepped back to his 25-yard line and passed 45 yards to Ernie Hefferle, who ran the 30 remaining yards to a touchdown.
Officially, the play went for 72 yards and the late touchdown to end Mississippi State’s upset hopes as “Duquesne University upheld the traditional supremacy of the north” in the bowl game.
The Dukes finished No. 14 in the final AP poll. They would reach No. 10 in 1939 and No. 8 in 1941, but the school disbanded football in 1950.
Football returned in 1969 and Duquesne returned to its dominating ways. The Dukes competed in NCAA Division III from 1979-92 and Division I-AA and FCS since 1993. They were NCAA Division I FCS Mid-Major National Champions in 2003 and have won or shared 14 conference championships in the past 21 years.
That includes the Northeast Conference championship in 2015 and the Dukes’ first berth in the FCS playoffs.
But the 1937 Orange Bowl marked Duquesne’s final victory in a major bowl.
Above: Duquesne plays Mississippi State in the 1937 Orange Bowl. The Dukes have not played in a bowl game since. (Courtesy Duquesne University Archives)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Drexel and Duquesne
• Tuesday: East Carolina and East Tennessee State
• Wednesday: Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky
• Thursday: Eastern Michigan and Elon
• Friday: Ferris State and Florida Atlantic