Robert Morris defense leads charge in win over Duquesne
Robert Morris continued its remarkable turnaround Saturday afternoon as the Colonials defense took a major role in a 41-21 victory over rival Duquesne.
The defense forced seven turnovers, Mason Gray returned two interceptions for touchdowns and the Dukes were held without a first down until there were 22 seconds left in the first half.
Robert Morris, entering the season with 14 consecutive Northeast Conference losses, won the battle of conference unbeatens by defeating Duquesne after losing the six previous contests against the Dukes.
The Colonials are 5-0 in the NEC, 6-4 overall. Robert Morris travels to Central Connecticut next Saturday, where the Blue Devils (8-3, 5-0) also are undefeated in the conference after recording an overtime victory earlier Saturday afternoon against St. Francis (Pa.).
“I’m not sure it’s a statement,” Robert Morris coach Bernard Clark Jr. said of his team’s defensive play. “But they played an outstanding game. The young men played together and did a good job in executing the things coach (defensive coordinator Dave ) Plugos set up.”
Gray, a senior transfer, returned pickoffs of 36 yards in the third quarter and another 81 yards with 3 minutes, 36 seconds left in the game, just after Duquesne cut its deficit to 27-14.
“I just want to celebrate with my teammates right now,” Gray said on the stairway leading up to the locker room. “I was just ready with my keys we practiced throughout the week.”
Clark thought the key was going up early, leading 20-0 on Nick Bisceglia’s second field goal of game with 40 seconds left in the half.
“I thought it was important to get the lead early,” Clark said. “We’ve wanted to do that all year long. If they had gone up on us quickly, I don’t know what would have happened.”
The Colonials defense also bottled up Duquesne’s leading rusher, A.J. Hines, holding the senior to 44 yards. Hines needed 81 yards to surpass Larry McCoy as the school’s all-time leading rusher.
“Well, we lost a football game,” said Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt, summing up the gray afternoon. “We were very generous. We had too many turnovers to overcome.”
The Dukes (6-3, 4-1) inserted South Fayette’s Brett Brumbaugh for his first start at quarterback, replacing Daniel Parr, out with an injured collarbone.
Brumbaugh, the WPIAL’s all-time leading passer, had four completions in 14 attempts in the first half, but heated up in the second half as the Dukes tried to mount a comeback.
A 13-yard pass to Dominic Thieman with 10:10 on the third-quarter clock cut the lead to 20-7. After Gray’s first interception runback, Brumbaugh directed a quick, 42-yard drive in just 1:04 to bring the Dukes to within 27-14 before Gray’s second return for a score to put the game out of reach, 34-14, with 3:36 to go.
Brumbaugh finished with 302 yards.
“Brett did some good things,” Schmitt said. “I won’t evaluate him till I see the film. I just didn’t do a good job on everything to make these guys successful today. But even with seven turnovers, we potentially had a shot with four minutes left.”
Another defensive standout for the Colonials was Aniel Buzzacco, who had a fumble recovery, an interception and a team-high 11 tackles.
About the only negative for Robert Morris was Jacob White being ejected after a targeting call in the fourth quarter. The freshman safety has to sit out the first half next week. White’s interception in the first quarter led to the first Colonials touchdown.
Duquesne leads the all-time series 13-8.
The Dukes, still mathematically alive in the conference title race, travel to Rhode Island next Saturday to play Bryant.
George Guido is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.