Over the course of his Robert Morris career, Jeff Sinclair has pulled a handful of Houdini acts to get the Colonials a late win.
Saturday afternoon against Sacred Heart, Sinclair and two unsung assistants might have pulled out the most improbable win of his career. The senior quarterback tossed fourth quarter touchdowns to fullback Nick Groat and little-used tight end D.J. Pearson to cap a stunning rally as Robert Morris beat Sacred Heart 21-17.
It was not a day that Sinclair will want to remember statistically. In fact, it's not a day that the Robert Morris offense will likely use as the poster child for what it can do. The senior quarterback, on the last road trip of his career, threw four interceptions, ran 14 times for minus-5 yards, and completed just 11-of-25 passes for 145 yards.
Meanwhile, with junior left tackle A.J. Dalton suspended for the rest of the season and left guard Vince Mongelluzzo hurt, a patchwork offensive line that included back-up tight end Tyler Digby starting at left tackle was targeted and abused by Sacred Heart's defense. The Pioneers had four sacks, and at least two of Sinclair's picks were because of pressure.
Sacred Heart also stopped the run, holding the Colonials to essentially a yard per carry on all but two plays. Those came in the second half, as Evan Taylor ripped off a 65-yard run and wide receiver Donte Jeter had 38 yards on an end-around, both leading to scores.
Robert Morris' offense was so abysmal in the first half that the Colonials had just ten yards of total offense in the first two quarters and trailed 10-3 at the break.
Though the Colonials had Taylor's run and another field goal to make it 10-6 in the third quarter, Sinclair threw a pick-six with 7:44 left in the third quarter that pushed Sacred Heart up 17-6. Considering how Robert Morris struggled to move the ball, it appeared to be an insurmountable lead.
Sinclair didn't make it easy, throwing three more interceptions, but the Colonials found a way to rally. While the RMU defense was busy keeping the Pioneers out of the red zone, Sinclair pieced together a 10-play, 76-yard drive for the Colonials' first touchdown of the day. Sparked by Jeter's 38-yard run, a 5-yard pass to Jeter to convert a fourth down, and a 19-yard pass to Paul Evans, Robert Morris drove inside the Sacred Heart 5-yard line.
There, with Pearson in at tight end, Sinclair found the junior in the end zone for his first career reception and touchdown. Joe Walton decided to go for the two-point conversion, and after Sinclair bought time, there was Pearson again as he hauled in the pass to make it 17-14.
Robert Morris needed a stop, which they got, but Sinclair was picked by Dennis Regan to snuff out the Colonials' first chance to tie the game or take the lead. Again Sacred Heart went nowhere, but the field position battle pinned RMU back at their own 18-yard line with 2:57 to go.
That deficit was erased almost immediately, as Sinclair found Evans over the middle for a 41-yard reception to place the ball inside Sacred Heart territory. That big gain allowed Robert Morris to be more patient, working the clock to limit how much time SHU would have pending a score, and working the chains to get in range of Greg Langer's foot.
At least, that was the conventional wisdom. But after Sinclair fell just short of a first down at the 2-yard line with a 7-yard run on 3rd-and-8, Walton never hesitated. He sent his jumbo package out from the start, even keeping the unit out there during a Sacred Heart timeout. When play resumed, Groat floated out of the backfield with no one around him. Sinclair just had to slip the pass between two rushing Pioneers and Groat hauled it in with relative ease despite a bulky brace to protect his dislocated elbow.
It was Groat's first career touchdown catch, and it gave RMU a 21-17 lead with 30 seconds left. Sacred Heart tried a desperation heave with five seconds left, but Cameron Chadwick picked it off for his second interception of the day to seal the victory.
Robert Morris (4-6, 3-4 NEC) has chance to finish on a positive note next week in the final game of the regular season. The Colonials will host Monmouth for senior day.