|Rookie Branch Earns NEC Defensive Honors|
Moon Township, Pa. - Freshman Marcelis Branch (Homestead, Fla. / Miami Southridge) of the Robert Morris University football team earned a unique distinction as he was named Northeast Conference (NEC) Defensive Player of the Week and the NEC Rookie of the Week in an announcement made by league officials Monday afternoon.
Branch, starting in just his third collegiate game, helped RMU to a victory over previously undefeated Lafayette, a squad which was receiving votes in both major national polls entering the game.
In earning this pair of awards, Branch became the first Colonial in program history to earn conference defensive and rookie honors in the same season, let alone the same week. He is also just the third Colonial, joining Nick Downs (1997-2000) and Mike Niklos (2003-07), to claim each of these accomplishments during an entire career.
Branch had a huge impact on the game as he forced two turnovers, helping put points on the board for RMU, while also contributing a team season-high 15 tackles, 12 of which were of the solo variety.
Fewer than eight minutes into the game, Branch drilled Leopard wide receiver Mark Ross after a reception, knocking the ball onto the turf for a fumble. His teammate, sophomore linebacker Mike Neilson (Pittsburgh, Pa. / Pittsburgh Central Catholic), scooped up the ball and sprinted into the end zone for RMU’s first defensive touchdown in the past 30 games.
In the second quarter, Branch made an acrobatic, leaping interception of a pass above his head to notch RMU’s second interception of the half. The Colonials’ offense punched the ball into the end zone just three plays later to increase RMU’s advantage to 28-7 fewer than 23 minutes into the game.
Of Branch’s 13 defensive tackles (two also came on special teams), eight of his stops kept the opponent from reaching first-down yardage, including perhaps RMU’s most important tackle of the game. With the game tied with under four minutes to play in regulation, Lafayette converted a pass on a third-down play, but Branch came up with a solo stop to keep the receiver shy of a first down, forcing a punt which would give the ball back to Robert Morris for what proved to be the game-winning drive.
Branch’s 15 tackles tied him for the second-highest figure by a Robert Morris freshman in a single game and the most since James Noel (2002-05) posted 15 in 2002.
Branch becomes the 19th distinct Colonial to have won NEC Defensive Player of the Week honors and the 17th distinct Colonial to win the league’s Rookie of the Week award.
After notching a thrilling victory in its final non-conference game, Robert Morris will play NEC opponents in the final seven weeks of the season. The Colonials will start a two-game roadtrip this Saturday, Oct. 6, at Noon as they travel to in-state rival Saint Francis to meet the Red Flash for the 19th time in the program’s 19 seasons.