Blocked punt dooms Robert Morris
In the obscure world of Division I FCS, the Northeast Conference is on the fringe.
And outside of the league, Smithfield, R.I.-based Bryant isn't well-known.
But the Bulldogs, still in a cumbersome NCAA transition process from Division II, continued to show they can compete at this level, rallying to beat Robert Morris, 34-27, on Saturday at Joe Walton Stadium.
Mike Croce completed 20 of 28 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns, and Jordan Brown rushed for 179 yards, including a 10-yarder with 32 seconds remaining, to break a 27-27 tie and lift Bryant.
The Bulldogs' winning drive came after Jordan Harris recovered a blocked Robert Morris punt at the Colonials' 25.
"They sure got a lot of pressure on us. It was very crucial," Robert Morris coach Joe Walton said. "Special teams are a big part of the game, and when they let you down, it's tough to overcome. The whole thing was a mess."
Minutes earlier, Bryant tied the score on Croce's 13-yard touchdown pass to Matt Tracey, who had eight receptions for 92 yards.
The Bulldogs outgained Robert Morris, 410-358.
The win comes three weeks after Bryant dropped a 31-28 decision to Duquesne at Rooney Field.
"They've done a good job recruiting and a good coaching job," Walton said. "They're a good team. Duquesne struggled with them and finally beat them. But everybody's struggled playing them. It's not like we're the first. But we let it get away from us."
Bryant (5-3, 3-2) erased a 27-20 Robert Morris lead by scoring two late touchdowns after the Colonials had gone ahead for the final time on Jeff Sinclair's 14-yard touchdown pass to Jamie Cobb with 6:41 remaining.
Bryant has beaten Robert Morris (2-5, 2-2) in all four of the teams' meetings by an average of eight points. The Bulldogs were the last team to beat the Colonials at Joe Walton Stadium before yesterday -- a span of eight games dating to 2009.
"I'm still shocked about it," said Sinclair, a former Highlands star. "It seems like every game we play well in certain areas, but we can't seem to put together a complete effort."
Sinclair, who led Robert Morris to the NEC title and a spot in the FCS playoffs last season, did his part. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior completed 20 of 42 for 227 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 35 yards on 13 attempts.
But with the loss of three-time 1,000-yard rusher Myles Russ to graduation, Robert Morris has had to rely on its passing this season.
Redshirt freshman running back Deontae Howard led the Colonials with 62 yards rushing against Bryant.
"We've always been a good running team," Walton said. "We've tried a number of different backs. There hasn't been one who's done well enough to be a feature back. They all have a little different quirks, but nothing that fits exactly what we want."