(STATS) - Defense was the driving force behind Duquesne capturing the first FCS playoff berth in program history, so it's no surprise the anchor of that unit was honored as the Northeast Conference defensive player of the year.
Kuntz returned to play all 11 games this season and made 23 tackles for loss, the sixth-highest season total in NEC history. He averaged 5.9 tackles per game, finished second in the conference with eight sacks and led the league with four interceptions.
With Kuntz at the helm, the Dukes ranked among the FCS top 20 in several categories. They were fifth in red zone defense (.630), seventh in scoring defense (16.3 ppg), seventh in turnover margin (1.00), 12th in sacks (2.91), and 19th in third down defense (.329).
Offensive player of the year honors went to Bryant senior running back Ricardo McCray, who led the league with 1,622 all-purpose yards. The dynamic McCray, who earned all-NEC second team status as a junior, led the conference in rushing (1,270 yards) and finished sixth in the FCS with an average of 115.5 yards per game.
He averaged a conference-best 6.3 yards per carry and had seven 100-yard games, setting a career high with 182 against Sacred Heart on Nov. 14. McCray finishes his career with 4,202 all-purpose yards, making him one of only three players in Bryant history to accumulate over 4,000.
Chris Villarrial was named NEC coach of the year after guiding Saint Francis to its first winning season since 1992. After three straight 5-6 seasons, the Red Flash went 6-4 overall, 4-2 in the conference and came within one win of the league title. The former All-Pro NFL offensive lineman is the first in school history to win NEC coaching honors.
Two more schools had players take home major awards as Robert Morris receiver Kyle Buss won offensive rookie of the year honors and Central Connecticut defensive lineman Chris Tinkham was named defensive rookie of the year.
Buss' award comes after he was the only NEC athlete to be named a finalist for the STATS National Freshman Player of the Year award. His 50 receptions ranked fourth in the conference and his 742 receiving yards were fifth. Buss ranked second in the FCS in receiving yards among freshmen and third in receptions per game (4.55).
Tinkham proved a force up front for the Blue Devils, playing in all 11 games while recording 39 tackles, 12 of which went for a loss, and one forced fumble that was recovered for a touchdown. He made 12 1/2 hits for a loss, tied for fourth in the NEC.
NORTHEAST CONFERENCE FIRST TEAM=
RJ Noel, Sacred Heart (Jr., QB - Lowell, Mass.)
Khari Dickson, Saint Francis (Sr., RB - Cleveland, Ohio)
Ricardo McCray, Bryant (Sr., RB - Middletown, RI)
Tyler Dube, Sacred Heart (Sr., WR - Southington, Conn.)
Chris King, Duquesne (Sr., WR - Crofton, Md.)
Terell Smith, Saint Francis (Sr., WR - West Haverstraw, N.Y.)
John Lavin, Byant (Sr., TE - Falmouth, Mass.)
Dan Bucholz, Duquesne (Sr., OL - Malvern, Pa.)
Tyler Cardoze, Bryant (Jr., OL - Corona, N.Y.)
Ben Huss, Duquesne (So., OL - Upper St. Clair, Pa.)
Jimmy Marks, Saint Francis (Jr., OL - Middletown, Pa.)
Paul Taylor, Bryant (Sr., OL - Baltimore, Md.)
Asia Bolling, Cenrtral Connecticut (Jr., DL - Stratford, Conn.)
Connor Caveney, Sacred Heart (Sr., DL - Fitchburg, Mass.)
Forrest Mason, Robert Morris (Sr., DL - Union Bridge, Md.)
Zach Zidian, Duquesne (Sr., DL - Youngstown, Ohio)
Christian Kuntz, Duquesne (Jr., LB - Pittsburgh, Pa.)
Sam Martello, Duquense (Jr., LB - Westlake, Ohio)
James Rentz, Sacred Heart (Jr., LB - St. Augustin, Fla.)
Marcelis Branch, Robert Morris (Jr., DB - Homestead, Fla.)
Jevon Ellmore, Central Connecticut (Jr., DB - New London, Conn.)
Lorenzo Jerome, Saint Francis (Jr., DB - Sunrise, Fla.)
DaQuan Minter, Saint Francis (Sr. DB - Johnstown, Pa.)
Lance Geesey, Saint Francis (Jr., K - Harrisburg, Pa.)
Lorenzo Jerome, Saint Francis (Jr., RS - Sunrise, Fla.)