|RMU Win Ends Duquesne’s Hopes of NEC Repeat|
Moon Township, Pa. - The Robert Morris University football team used a fourth-quarter touchdown and a late defensive stand to take down local rival Duquesne, 17-13, ending the Dukes’ chances of a second-consecutive Northeast Conference (NEC) championship Saturday evening at a chilly Joe Walton Stadium.
The victory was RMU’s third straight home win over Duquesne and improved the Colonials to 3-2 against the Dukes since the two squads started competing as conference foes.
The Robert Morris defense did a tremendous job Saturday as it held one of the league’s top offenses in check throughout the afternoon. Duquesne entered the day averaging over 29 points per game, but the Colonials held it well short of that figure and also held the Dukes’ star running back Larry McCoy to under 100 yards rushing for just the seventh time in Duquesne’s last 27 games.
Senior defensive lineman Nolan Nearhoof (Gibsonia, Pa. / Mars Area) led the squad with a game-high 11 tackles and added a game-best 2.5 tackles for loss as well as a game-high three quarterback hurries. With his performance, Nearhoof surpassed 200 career tackles, the most among all active Colonials, and moved into sixth all-time at RMU in career tackles for loss with 33.
True freshman Marcelis Branch (Homestead, Fla. / Miami Southridge), senior linebacker Mike Cook (Victoria, Minn. / Eden Prarie (Winona State)), junior linebacker Luke Mueller (Cranberry Township, Pa. / Seneca Valley) and junior safety D.J. Myers (Aliquippa, Pa. / Pittsburgh Central Catholic) all added eight stops to aid the defensive effort.
Robert Morris also won the turnover battle, a rare feat for Dukes’ opponents as Duquesne entered the game ranked 11th nationally in turnover margin. However, the Colonial offense did not lose the ball once, and Branch registered his third interception in the last six games in the fourth quarter.
Senior quarterback Jeff Sinclair (Natrona Heights, Pa. / Highlands) was efficient at the helm as he completed 11-of-17 passes for 146 yards while tossing one touchdown and zero interceptions. Sinclair, who also ran seven times for 60 yards and one touchdown, moved into second place all-time in career total offense at Robert Morris (6,227 yards) and also slid into a tie for third in career touchdown passes with 53. In engineering the game-winning 77-yard drive, Sinclair also became RMU’s career-leader in all-time game-winning drives in the fourth quarter (or overtime) with six.
Junior wide receiver Donte Jeter (Pittsburgh, Pa. / Oliver) tallied five catches for 66 yards and moved into eighth place in single-season receiving yards at RMU with 582.
Duquesne received the opening kickoff, but the Colonials held them to just 12 yards before forcing a punt. RMU’s special teams then came up with a huge play as junior linebacker Adrian Perez (Los Angeles, Calif. / West Los Angeles J.C.) blocked the Dukes’ punt, and sophomore fullback Ryan Thermil (Fort Washington, Md. / St. Joseph's & St. Agnes) recovered the bouncing ball, setting up the offense with excellent field position.
The Colonials needed five plays to punch the ball in as Sinclair scampered for an 11-yard score on third down-and two.
Duquesne would answer with its lone touchdown of the day as the Dukes drove 83 yards on 14 plays and tied the game on an 8-yard pass.
After a 31-yard kickoff return by true freshman Brian Jones (Monroeville, Pa. / Gateway) gave the Colonials a good starting point, the offense picked up 51 yards on 10 plays, including a key third-down rush from Sinclair, to move the ball into the red zone. Facing fourth down-and-four at the 11-yard line, senior Greg Langer (Wexford, Pa. / Pine-Richland) knocked through a 28-yard field goal to put Robert Morris back on top early in the second quarter.
The defenses really stepped up on the next four drives as Duquesne did not pick up a first down while the Colonials managed one on each possession.
Duquesne ended the half with a 12-play, 77-yard drive, aided by a successful fake punt, that tied the score at the half as the Dukes hit a 20-yard field goal as the clock hit zero.
Robert Morris converted two third downs and a fourth down in its own half of the field to drive well into Duquesne territory on the opening drive of the second half, but a missed field goal kept the score deadlocked.
The Dukes then managed a long, sustained drive eventually gaining a first-and-goal opportunity. The Colonial defense held the Dukes to two rushing yards and forced an incomplete pass to hold Duquesne to a 22-yard field goal, which was converted as the third quarter expired.
Facing a fourth-quarter deficit for the second straight home game, Robert Morris once again found a way to rally as RMU drove 77 yards on six plays. Jeter hauled in a key nine-yard pass on third down-and-nine and then caught a 26-yard reception to move the ball into Duquesne territory.
On the very next play, Sinclair hit wide receiver Duane Mitchell (Monroe Falls, Ohio / Stow) streaking down the left sideline, and the sophomore found paydirt to give the Colonials the lead. The 41-yard reception was the longest of Mitchell’s young career at receiver.
Branch intercepted Duquesne’s all-conference quarterback Sean Patterson on the next drive, but the Colonials were unable to take advantage.
Duquesne got the ball back with just eight minutes remaining and efficiently drove the ball into the red zone, but the RMU defense then stiffened up. With first-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Robert Morris forced two incomplete passes and then Myers stopped McCoy for no gain to set up fourth down.
The Dukes elected to go for the lead and Patterson’s pass fell incomplete in the back of the end zone, turning the ball over on downs.
RMU ran for five yards on its first two plays, and Duquesne used its second timeout with 1:42 remaining. Facing a third down-and-five, Sinclair rolled left and fought his way for seven yards to pick up a game-clinching first down.
The Robert Morris offensive line did not concede a sack all day, marking the first such occurrence since Oct. 30, 2010, which was also the program’s last home game against Duquesne.
Sophomore Tony LaMancusa (Webster, N.Y. / Webster) had his second straight strong day on special teams as he averaged 44 yards per punt, including a new career long of 53.
Sinclair’s rushing touchdown was the 17th of his career. Prior to Sinclair taking over under center, all previous RMU quarterbacks combined for just 16 rushing touchdowns in the program’s first 156 games.
Robert Morris was 7-of-14 on third down, its best mark in the program’s 13 games, and is now 5-of-6 combined on fourth down in its past three games.
RMU, which gained more yards per play than its opponent for the third straight week, moved to 6-1 in its past seven games broadcast on NEC-TV, including 4-0 at home, as Saturday’s game was broadcast live on ESPN3 and Root Sports.
The Colonials moved to 13-8 all-time in program history when they are tied at halftime, including 2-0 in the past three weeks.
Robert Morris will seek to carry its success to the road next Saturday, Nov. 10 as it plays its road finale at Sacred Heart. The opening kickoff is set for Noon.