A week after falling short of its goal of an outright Northeast Conference championship and bid to the FCS playoffs, Robert Morris took the field against Saint Francis with a chance to send Joe Walton out with a decent consolation prize.
Instead, Robert Morris fell flat against Saint Francis and couldn't lay claim to a piece of the NEC title. Saint Francis took advantage of several Robert Morris turnovers to build an early lead en route to a 23-3 win over the Colonials in Joe Walton's final game as Robert Morris head coach.
"I don't think it was any different because I'm very disappointed," Walton said. "We certainly haven't played well the past couple weeks. Maybe too much retirement and senior days and all that stuff. I think we lost focus the last couple weeks. You can't do that in football, and that's why we got beat."
Saint Francis struck first, using its prolific run game as a decoy to frustrate the Robert Morris defense. With all the focus on stopping talented running back Kyle Harbridge, RMU was caught off guard when Harbridge went out as a receiver and caught a 44-yard touchdown to give the Red Flash a 7-0 lead.
Robert Morris couldn't mount a response, and Paul Jones' first pass of the game was picked off deep in RMU territory. Harbridge scored from 10 yards out to give Saint Francis a 14-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game.
After Jones was sacked and stripped to end the next RMU drive, Marcus Prather stepped in at quarterback for the Colonials. Jones didn't appear to be hurt and stood on the sideline next to Walton and the rest of the offensive personnel. Walton said he was trying to get Jones jump-started.
"I was looking for a spark early in the game. Paul started out pretty slow," Walton said. "I had all intentions of putting him back in. I just wanted to try to settle him down."
Even with the switch, RMU struggled to develop any consistency on offense and Jones eventually went back in under center. Saint Francis added two field goals and Robert Morris got a 22-yarder from Connor Shennan to make the halftime score 20-3 in favor of the Red Flash.
Robert Morris' struggles didn't ease up in the second half. Saint Francis stymied the Colonials offense at every turn, and while the Saint Francis offense couldn't generate much more, the Red Flash did add a third quarter field goal to make it 23-3 and close out the scoring. Prather subbed back in for Jones at the end of the third quarter after Jones took a huge blindside hit on a sack, and he remained in the game at quarterback until the final whistle.
Several Colonials were able to hit milestones in the final game. Corner Clay Ilkin registered his first career interception in his final game in a Robert Morris uniform. Wide receiver Duane Mitchell had six receptions to push his season total to 52 and set a new single-season record for catches. Linebacker Mike Cook had six tackles to finish his senior season with 117, breaking the old single-season mark of 116 set by Alex DiMichele.
"Before the game in the locker room he reminded me that he played ten games and I played 11," Cook said with a smile. "It's a nice thing to go out with. I would've liked to go out tied for first place, but what are you going to do?"
The 5-6 finish in Walton's final year sends out the veteran coach with a career record of 114-92-1 at Robert Morris.
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at email@example.com.