|Colonials Drop NEC Opener to Preseason Favorite|
Moon Township, Pa. - The Robert Morris University football team opened up an early lead on defending Northeast Conference (NEC) champion Albany, but the Great Danes would respond and walked away with a 35-10 decision in the NEC opener for both teams Saturday afternoon at a rainy Joe Walton Stadium.
The setback to the Great Danes, who earned votes in both major national polls this past week, marked the first time in program history in which RMU dropped a NEC game in its home opener.
Robert Morris senior Greg Langer (Wexford, Pa. / Pine-Richland) opened the scoring fewer than three minutes in when he booted a career-long 49-yard field goal through the raindrops, marking the longest field goal by a Colonial in over 12 years. It was also Langer’s ninth consecutive made field goal, which extended his own program record in that category.
The RMU scoring drive was aided by a career-long 30-yard run by sophomore fullback Ryan Thermil (Fort Washington, Md. / St. Joseph's & St. Agnes).
Albany, the NEC preseason favorite according to the league’s coaches’ poll, responded with a five-play drive that was capped off with a 40-yard touchdown pass.
The Great Danes would also launch scoring drives on each of their next two possessions while RMU was forced to punt twice, allowing the visitors to open up a 21-3 advantage.
RMU was driving late in the second quarter as sophomore quarterback Matt Layman (Hilton Head, S.C. / Hilton Head Prep) completed four passes to move the ball to the Albany 29-yard line. However, a crucial sack killed the Colonials’ momentum and kept them from scoring before the half.
A long kickoff return helped setup a short scoring drive for the Great Danes early in the second half, but RMU would soon fight back and get into the end zone.
Junior Evan Taylor (Redding, Calif. / Shasta) rushed for 41 yards, including a 27-yard scamper, to help move the ball into the red zone in the middle of the third quarter. Facing a fourth down with six yards to go, Layman found junior wide receiver Donte Jeter (Pittsburgh, Pa. / Oliver) who had beat his man down the right sideline, and the two hooked up on a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Robert Morris forced Albany into a three-and-out on its next possession and was looking to get back into the game, but an untimely interception set the Great Danes up with superb field position to strike again.
RMU was able to get inside the Albany 25-yard line in the fourth quarter as it looked to close the gap, but another turnover all but sealed the deal.
Thermil rushed eight times for 53 yards while Taylor added 54 yards on 14 carries. Layman finished 12-of-25 passing for 121 yards as he completed passes to seven different receivers, which included the first-career reception by true freshman D.J. Hayes (West Mifflin, Pa. / West Mifflin) in his collegiate debut.
Sophomore linebacker Mike Neilson (Pittsburgh, Pa. / Pittsburgh Central Catholic) tied for game-high honors with 10 tackles, including a tackles for loss, in just his second career appearance in a RMU uniform. Senior Brad Banas (Houston, Pa. / Chartiers-Houston) tied Neilson by contributing a career-high 10 tackles along with two quarterback hurries.
Safety Cameron Chadwick (Vista, Calif. / College of Canyons) and defensive lineman Nolan Nearhoof (Gibsonia, Pa. / Mars Area) both added nine tackles with Nearhoof adding three quarterback hurries.
True freshmen Marcelis Branch (Homestead, Fla. / Miami Southridge) and Max Robertson (Deland, Fla. / Deland) both made their first-career starts Saturday, with the former starting at cornerback and the latter earning the nod at left guard.
After facing the defending national champion and its defending conference champion to open the season, Robert Morris will look to right the ship next Saturday, Sept. 15. RMU will continue the longest running rivalry with a non-conference foe in program history as the Colonials travel to Dayton for a 1:00 p.m. kickoff.