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November 17, 2012

RMU can't cap stirring comeback in finale

Down by five, three minutes remaining, 99 yards, last time walking onto a football field: It sounds like something you dream up as a kid in your backyard or watch in a movie theater.

Except for senior quarterback Jeff Sinclair, this was real life. It all came down to one drive in the last game of his career.

"I got out there and didn't really realize we were on the one yard line, I thought we were on, like, the ten," he said. "But that's what we do every week in practice, we run the 98 yard drive, and that's exactly what we did. In my personal opinion, we got in the end zone."

The Robert Morris offense did indeed march down the field to the four. After an incompletion, a run for no yards, and a spike, it was fourth down. The call was a toss play for fullback Nick Groat, who scored on the play but had the touchdown negated by a holding penalty. The final play resulted in an incompletion.

"I thought we had it there, I really did," head coach Joe Walton said. "That one penalty was really bad. The holding penalty we had when we scored, it took the game away from us."

Groat said he was surprised to see a flag thrown on the last play of the game but does not hold a grudge against the officials. He said that officials throwing flags is part of the game and he was proud of the effort his team showed.

RMU put themselves in a hole to start off the game. The offense had ten yards of offense in the first quarter and the defense had trouble stopping the run. Monmouth's massive offensive line pushed around the defense early and opened up holes for running back Julian Hayes, who had 143 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Kyle Frazier also had a very efficient day, taking advantage of the soft coverage in the secondary. Because of all this, Monmouth led 17-0 at half.

"They hit some big plays in the first quarter and we had a lot of missed tackles. When you put yourself 17 points in the whole three drives in a row, that's hard to come back from," said defensive end Nolan Nearhoof, who led the team with 2.5 sacks on the day and broke the single season RMU record with 12.5.

Things changed in the second half, however. Robert Morris, who had an inconsistent running game in the first half, opened up more with the passing game.

"They were stacking up everybody and trying to stop our run, so I tried to loosen them up a bit throwing the ball and getting to the outside with passes," said Walton. "Then all of the sudden they start pass rushing and some of the runs start working better."

Nearhoof said watching the offense score gave the defense a boost as well.

"We came out saying that if they came out and scored seven it was going to be a dog fight," he said. "They came out and put up seven and then seven more and we rolled with it."

Overall, the hole they dug themselves in to was just too deep. For a lot of guys, it was the last football game they'll ever participate in, and the memories are plentiful. Robert Morris ended the year playing good football, and there are already comparisons of this season to the 2009 one, where the team reeled off five straight wins to end the year and carried that over to a championship season the next year. The future is bright, according to Nearhoof.

"A lot of guys got a lot of experience. Marcelis Branch is a heck of a freshman, that whole secondary is going to be really good," he said. "They should be a heck of a team."

Walton said that this years class showed future teams to not quit and always fight until the end. Sinclair called his four years at RMU "a blast" and said he was blessed to have gotten all of the playing time he did and was able to win a championship.

Groat, also a member of the championship team, said he's going to miss the family aspect.

"I've met so many great guys that we'll be friends for ever. I'm going to be in their weddings they're going to be in my weddings. I'm going to miss it," he said.

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