|Robert Morris Falls Just Short to Hawks|
Moon Township, Pa. - The Robert Morris University football team has made a recent habit of exciting fourth-quarter comebacks, but the Colonials fell just short of duplicating last week’s effort as they fell to Monmouth, 26-21, to close out each team’s season Saturday afternoon at a sunny Joe Walton Stadium.
RMU appeared to have scored a game-winning touchdown with just seven seconds remaining, but an untimely holding penalty was assessed that negated the score. The Colonials had shown great resolve to even be in reach in the closing minutes as they had scored 21 second-half points to fight back from a 17-0 halftime deficit.
Robert Morris posted an impressive 440 yards of total offense, its best mark since 2010. RMU had advantages in both rushing yards and passing yards and gained more yards per play than its opponent for the fifth straight week.
Senior quarterback Jeff Sinclair (Natrona Heights, Pa. / Highlands) had one of his best performances in a Colonial uniform in his final game with the program. He tossed a career-best 21 completions on 34 attempts and threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He added 54 rushing yards on 11 attempts to tally a career-high 322 total yards of offense, the fourth-highest mark in RMU single-game history.
With his output Saturday, Sinclair moved his total offense total for the season to 2,029 yards, the fifth-most in RMU history even though he missed two games. In doing so, Sinclair becomes the first Colonial ever to have more than one season with at least 2,000 yards of total offense.
Senior defensive lineman Nolan Nearhoof (Gibsonia, Pa. / Mars Area) posted six tackles, including 2.5 sacks, leading a RMU defense that posted six total sacks and registered 11 tackles for loss.
Monmouth won the toss, received the opening kickoff and marched 71 yards to open the scoring as it punched the ball in on a 2-yard rush.
Robert Morris couldn’t get its offense going early on and had to punt on each of its first two possessions. On the other hand, the Hawks had their best offensive moments near the beginning of the contest as they scored another touchdown and added a field goal on each of their next two possessions, albeit on drives of just 47 and 51 yards.
After each team punted, Robert Morris drove to the Monmouth 12-yard line but was forced to attempt a field goal, which was blocked. That try represented the last true scoring threat of the first half for either team, as Monmouth took its double-digit cushion into intermission.
RMU came out firing on all cylinders early after the break as it drove 75 yards on just five plays to find the end zone. Junior Evan Taylor (Redding, Calif. / Shasta) ripped off a 34-yard run to move the ball into the Hawks’ territory before junior Deontae Howard (Clairton, Pa. / Clairton) broke free on the right side and ran across the goal line from 20 yards out.
The Colonial defense forced a quick three-and-out, and the offense went right back to work, driving 79 yards on five plays. Sinclair ran for 29 yards to move the ball across the midfield stripe and then hooked up with sophomore wideout Duane Mitchell (Monroe Falls, Ohio / Stow) for a 39-yard strike down the left sideline to cut Monmouth’s deficit to 17-14.
Monmouth used a 44-yard pass on its next drive to get the ball into the Colonial red zone, but the defense didn’t break as it held the Hawks to a 43-yard field goal, and the guests moved ahead, 20-14.
Robert Morris was forced to punt on its next drive, but it was far from a routine boot. A Colonial gunner on punt coverage jarred the ball loose from the Hawks’ return man, and RMU jumped on the bouncing ball inside Monmouth’s 10-yard line. However, a highly controversial kick catch interference penalty was called, taking away Robert Morris’ tremendous opportunity to take the lead.
Monmouth would add to its lead early in the fourth quarter as Julian Hayes rushed from 22 yards out into the left corner of the end zone although the Colonial defense prevented the Hawks’ pass attempt from finding a receiver on the two-point try.
Robert Morris came right back as it scored on six plays, cutting its deficit to 26-21 with just over eight minutes left, when Sinclair again found Mitchell breaking free and hit him for a 44-yard strike.
The RMU defense forced Monmouth to punt on the Hawks’ final drive, but a perfect kick left RMU in a tough spot. The Colonials took over on their own 1-yard line trailing by five in the waning minutes of the contest.
Taylor rushed for 10 yards to give RMU some breathing room. Sinclair would then find senior Quinton Pirl (Austintown, Ohio / Austintown-Fitch) for a 12-yard completion and a first down before scampering 11 yards himself to move the ball to near midfield.
Facing third down-and-16, Sinclair hit true freshman D.J. Hayes (West Mifflin, Pa. / West Mifflin) for 15 yards, setting up fourth down. On the very next play, Sinclair again found Hayes, this time for 16 yards, to move the ball within striking distance with the clock well under one minute.
RMU would appear to win the game on a fullback rush to the right side, but a penalty moved the ball back to the 12-yard line with seven seconds left. On what proved to be the game’s final play, RMU was called for an illegal forward pass, which made the Hawks’ pass interference penalty on the play inconsequential.
Mitchell finished with a career-best 116 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and his 44-yard catch was also the longest of his career. Taylor closed his first campaign on offense with 78 rushing yards and 15 receiving yards.
Junior safety D.J. Myers (Aliquippa, Pa. / Pittsburgh Central Catholic) had a game-high 11 tackles, and senior linebacker Mike Cook (Victoria, Minn. / Eden Prarie (Winona State)) posted 10, including a half-tackle for loss. Cook tallied his fourth double-figure tackle game of the year and led the squad with 88 on the season. Junior Chris Thompkins (Webster, N.Y. / Webster) added five tackles, including three tackles for loss and one sack.
Robert Morris also converted at least one fourth down for the fifth straight game, its longest such in-season streak since 2003.
RMU fell to 10-8 all-time against Monmouth, as 11 of the 18 affairs have been decided by no more than one possession.
Sinclair wraps up his career all over the RMU record book in a variety of categories. He finished second in career total offense (6,689) and touchdowns responsible for (74), third in career passing touchdowns (57) and fourth in completions (444) and passing yards (5,831). Sinclair, whose seven game winning fourth-quarter drives are a RMU record, also finished fifth in career rushing touchdowns (17) and ninth in career rushing yards (858).
Nearhoof finished his senior campaign with a career-best 10.5 sacks, just a half sack off the school record. Earlier this season, he broke RMU’s all-time mark for sacks and completed the season with 26.5, shattering the prior top mark. Nearhoof finished with 213 career tackles, including 36 tackles for loss, which is tied for fifth all time, and is already a two-time Academic All-American.
Senior Greg Langer (Wexford, Pa. / Pine-Richland) departs as RMU’s all-time leader in field goal percentage (min. 15 attempts). Senior Alex Kirsch (Baltimore, Md. / Eastern Technical) made his first-career start Saturday at left tackle.
RMU used 11 different offensive starting combinations in its 11 games in 2012.
Entering Saturday’s finale, Robert Morris had already won three games in which it trailed in the fourth quarter in 2012, but it was unable to pull out a record-breaking fourth against the Hawks.