It started off so well. Then it all started to unravel.
Robert Morris' third straight loss left the Colonials frustrated and searching for answers. The 27-15 loss to Sacred Heart Saturday afternoon ensured the Colonials would not repeat as Northeast Conference champions, would not come away with a winning record this season, and left them in salvage mode.
"It's really frustrating. You know we have the injuries, but we have guys who know the system and have been there," redshirt sophomore linebacker Kyle Cooper said. "After last week, we felt like we didn't get the checks and we weren't there mentally. I felt like we were there mentally today. I don't think we were out-physicaled. But if there was one slip-up, they got us every time."
Robert Morris opened the game on a high note, taking solid field position and scoring quickly on a Jeff Sinclair 22-yard touchdown run. But the offense wouldn't touch the endzone again the afternoon, scoring only on two Greg Langer field goals and a late safety handed to them by the Pioneers.
Head coach Joe Walton said the one-dimensional offense is beginning to severely hamper the Colonials. Robert Morris averaged just 2.5 yards per carry against Sacred Heart, and running backs Deontae Howard and Justin Brooks combined for 67 yards on 19 carries.
"I just think we're getting beat off the ball. We're not moving anybody, so it's difficult to run," Walton said. "Then when you start throwing a lot, they come after you. We don't have a running game. When you can't run the ball, you have big time problems."
Indeed, three of the five sacks on Sinclair Saturday came in the second half, and all five came after the first quarter, where Robert Morris had a 10-3 lead.
Robert Morris lost star running back Myles Russ and fullback Jeff Link to graduation, but no matter who has carried the ball, the line has struggled to consistently open running lanes. The team's only 100-yard rusher was Sinclair against woeful St. Francis.
"I think they have to get better," Walton said. "They're not good enough right now. That's all."
As the Robert Morris offense sputtered and stalled, the Sacred Heart offense clicked into gear. Robert Morris held SHU to just 26 yards in the first quarter, but the Pioneers ended up with 300.
"We're just not getting all three facets of the game rolling at the same time," Cooper said. "We've only had that two times this year and those are our two wins."
Walton agreed, pointing out that the Colonials have struggled to have complete games, no matter which side of the ball has struggled.
"We haven't learned how to finish yet. We haven't learned how to play for 60 minutes. That's what the whole problem is," Walton said. "They play for a half or three quarters and then they can't finish. I don't know what the answer is, but we'll keep working and trying to solve it.
Sacred Heart didn't have a huge game from quarterback Tim Little, but they didn't need one. Robert Morris expected to see a lot of Keshaudas Spence with the snowy weather, but backup running back Greg Moore proved to be far more dangerous.
"For the most part, we were sound, but one or two or plays if you don't get your guy or miss your assignment, things can break down," Cooper said.
Whether it was communication, whether it was lining up incorrectly, or whether it was just Moore's day, he hurt Robert Morris. Moore had 17 carries for 55 yards, but he caught six passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown was a soul-crushing 24-yard strike from Little at the end of the second quarter, giving the Pioneers the lead for the first and last time.
"We knew they liked to throw to the backs. We knew they were one of their leading receptions guys for them," Cooper said.
It's communication. If we're lined up right, we have to communicate. You can't communicate and not be lined up right. You have to be on the same page and that's it."
Robert Morris travels to Central Connecticut State next weekend before finishing up with a home game against Wagner and a short trip to Duquesne. With a winning season now out of the question, the Colonials are left to play for pride and look for a confidence boost.
"We have to salvage something," Cooper said.
"I think we have to see how they're going to respond these next few weeks," Walton said. "Do they want to get better or are they going to stay the same? That's all I can tell you."
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at email@example.com.