Colonials use late surge to fend off East Tennessee State

Collin Wilson, Staff Reporter

In a chilled Saturday afternoon at Joe Walton Stadium, the Robert Morris football team (3-6, 1-3) played well when it counted as the Colonials hung on to beat non-conference foe East Tennessee State (1-8) by a deceiving score of 21-9.

The Buccaneers, who were coming off their first victory since reinstating their football program, were not able to fully penetrate the RMU “bend don’t break” defense as they were held to three field goals. The first two came from back-to-back drives in the second quarter, marking 25 and 35 yards.

Robert Morris waited until late in each half to score as their first touchdown came from five yards out, when freshman quarterback Matthew Barr found sophomore wide receiver Craig Thompson with ten seconds left. The Colonials took a 7-6 lead into halftime.

RMU came out flat in the second half as Barr was 1-of-5 on passes in the third quarter. East Tennessee State seized the opportunity, recording their final field goal on a 29-yard kick.

The deciding score for Robert Morris arose at the 3:28 mark in the fourth quarter when Barr found freshman receiver Kyle Buss for an electrifying 84-yard touchdown pass, putting the Colonials up 14-9. RMU would add insurance a couple minutes later with sophomore Cole Blake’s 12-yard run into the end zone.

Barr was coming off a 34-0 loss against Central Connecticut State in which he threw five interceptions. However, Barr had a much better outing this week, setting career highs in completions (20), passing yards (225), and passing touchdowns (2) in the win over the Buccaneers.

“Last week was a struggle… We really went back to the drawing board. I got in the film room (heavily) just trying to see what I could do to fix it and come out here and trust what I saw on film,” said the quarterback on his record-setting day.

Barr must give some credit to Buss as the receiver had a game-high nine receptions for 138 yards and the game-winning TD. Buss was coming off a career-high 160-yard game and spoke on his success saying, “(I’m) getting better at reading coverages, watching film, seeing how they line up… getting quick releases is the thing that has been helping us out the most.”

Buss is now tied for fifth in the Colonial record book in receiving yards in a season with 661. The leader is 2005 receiver Tyjuan Massey at 899 yards. With two games remaining on the schedule, it may be possible for the freshman to make history this early on in his career.

Despite the outcome, Robert Morris looked uneven at times. For the second straight week, the punt unit allowed a block, and head coach John Banaszak spoke with frustration on the issue.

“It’s all about technique and we’ve got to recognize what they’re doing to us,” said Banaszak. “It’s pretty disappointing to me because we have a veteran unit out there and they’re not relaying to me what is happening… We got to get it ironed out before we play Saint Francis and Bryant because they’re going to come after us. There is no doubt about that.”

In the previous three games, the Colonials have turned the ball over a shocking 16 times. Saturday’s contest did not help the number as three fumbles were lost. Luckily for RMU, East Tennessee State was unable to take advantage.

Barr and Buss will receive most of the recognition due to their stat lines; however, it has been Robert Morris’ defensive side of the football that has stepped up when needed this entire season. On the Buccaneers’ scoring drives, they only had to go distances of 21, 26, and 56 yards. In most contests, this means a lopsided victory, but the Colonial defense recorded nine sacks for a total loss of 73 yards, forcing East Tennessee State to field goals and ultimately RMU to a victory.

The defensive ends for the Colonials, junior Ryan Lewis and senior Forrest Mason, recorded 2.5 sacks each. Senior inside linebacker and North Texas transfer Mike Stojkovic heard his name called many times as he finished with ten total tackles with one for a loss. Stojkovic also had an essential pass break-up at the goal line which held the Buccaneers to their first field goal. Senior Jake Tkach also added one sack and 14 total tackles for the Colonials.

Cole Blake led the way for Robert Morris’ rushing attack as he carried the ball 18 times for 83 yards. Sophomore Rameses Owens added three touches for 23 yards but was kept out of action most of the game.

Craig Thompson’s first-half touchdown comes a week after his first reception in his college career. He finished with three catches for 24 yards.

The Robert Morris defense forced a lot of sacks, but East Tennessee State also had success getting to Barr as he went down five times, resulting in a total loss of 23 yards.

The Buccaneers went with a two-quarterback system with Austin Herink and Nick Sexton. Herink finished 10-of-23 with 100 yards, and Sexton was 4-of-9 for 34 yards.

The Colonials only ran 61 offensive plays compared to East Tennessee State’s 83, but RMU finished with 322 yards, 86 more than its opponent.

Robert Morris is on the road for the final time this year Saturday, Nov. 14 at noon, taking on conference foe Saint Francis (PA) (4-5, 1-3).