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November 16, 2013
Sacred Heart dashes RMU playoff hopes
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After a three week surge to the top of the Northeast Conference, everything was laid out in front of Robert Morris.
If Robert Morris could win out, the Colonials could be NEC champions. If Robert Morris could defeat Sacred Heart, it could send out its senior class with two championship rings. And if Robert Morris could scrape together two wins, it could send Joe Walton into retirement as a champion.
Sacred Heart had other plans. The Pioneers shut down Robert Morris' offense and took advantage of a few miscues to defeat RMU 42-25 in Walton's final home game as head coach. With the win and St. Francis' loss to Wagner, Sacred Heart clinched a share of the NEC title alongside Duquesne and the conference's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
"It's disappointing for everybody, not just me," Walton said. "Let's hope they learn some lessons from this. This is the kind of game where were just a little overwhelmed by a good team. Maybe the next time they have this opportunity, they'll do better."
Robert Morris can technically still clinch a share of the NEC title by beating St. Francis next week, but the Colonials cannot grab the FCS bid.
"Things didn't work out the way we wanted them to," senior left tackle A.J. Dalton said. "We fought until the end. We could've laid down, but that's not our personality."
Sacred Heart took advantage of a couple of miscues to build a 14-3 halftime lead. The first came on missed coverage when quarterback R.J. Noel hit Robert Dim on a screen pass. Dim found plenty of room to run and scored on the 70-yard touchdown. In the second quarter, Sacred Heart forced a fumble on a sack of Paul Jones, and one player later Noel tossed a 19-yard touchdown to Moses Webb.
The theme continued in the third quarter. After a Robert Morris drive went backwards, Noel scored on a 35-yard keeper to push the Pioneers' lead to 21-3. All seemed lost for Robert Morris, especially when Noel's third touchdown pass of the game - this time to Tyler Dube made it 28-6 in favor of the Pioneers early in the fourth quarter.
But Robert Morris wouldn't go away. Ryan Thermil capped a 10-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown, though Robert Morris missed the 2-point conversion. After another RMU drive stalled with an interception, Robert Morris' defense answered with its first interception of the game. Redshirt senior lineman A.J. Holderman made his first career interception and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.
Once again the 2-point conversion failed, but RMU had life.
"We knew we were close and we were just one step behind," Dalton said. "We'd get up and then something would happen. We'd get a little closer and something else would happen. Regardless of what happened at the end of the game, we just wanted to finish."
Sacred Heart quickly put the game out of reach. The Pioneers recovered an onside kick and with 3:04 left, Keshaudas Spence scored on a 23-yard touchdown run to ice the game. Deontae Howard scored for Robert Morris to make it a little interesting with 2:18 left, but Sacred Heart returned a second onside kick try back for a touchdown to seal the 42-25 win.
"They kept fighting. It just wasn't in the cards," Walton said.
The Sacred Heart defense made things difficult for Robert Morris all day. Howard finished with 12 carries for 80 yards. Jones was sacked six times and finished the day 13-of-32 for 175 yards with two interceptions. He also carried a team high 18 times for 84 yards, but the sack yardage left him with just 38 net yards.
Senior linebacker Mike Cook led the defense with 14 tackles. Sacred Heart's offensive line kept Noel clean, as the RMU defense didn't post a sack for the first time this season.
"We got beat by a very good football team," Walton said. "You have to give them credit. They were the best team today."
Robert Morris wraps up the season and Walton's tenure as head coach next week at St. Francis.
"I've approached this season as one game at a time and business as usual," Walton said. "When the game's over next week, maybe I'll feel different. "
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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