Moon Township, PA – The Sacred Heart football team won its third straight road game Saturday afternoon, claiming a 27-15 victory over reigning Northeast Conference champion Robert Morris. The win is just SHU's second over a defending league champion, accomplishing the same feat against Robert Morris in the 2001 campaign. The Pioneer defense forced three turnovers overall and shutout the Colonials in the second half.
"When you can play well on the road, it's a testament that you have a pretty good team," commented SHU head coach Paul Gorham after the victory. "We have a little confidence about ourselves. We like being together as a group, the kids all get along really well. We've spent a lot of time with each other the last 24 hours, maybe that's part of it."
Quarterback Tim Little (Egg Harbor Twp., NJ) threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another score. Niko Sierra (Longmeadow, MA) came up big for the SHU defense, hauling in two interceptions and registering one of the Pioneers five total sacks.
"This is a great win for us, we lost some momentum last week but we came back this week and got it rolling again," commented Sierra after the game. "We just wanted to play sound the whole game. We wanted to be disciplined and do our job, we did that and we were very successful."
Robert Morris (2-6, 2-3 NEC) scored its only touchdown on the game's opening possession as QB Jeff Sinclair found room on the left side for a 22-yard scramble into the end zone. However, the Colonials next turn with the ball would come to an abrupt end after Sierra snagged his first INT of the afternoon. The turnover set up the Pioneers first points as Chris Rogers (Cazenovia, NY) booted through a 32-yard field goal to make it 7-3 at the 7:22 mark of the opening quarter.
The Colonials would get points on the ensuing possession but would be forced to settle for a field goal of their own. Chris Mandas (Mission Viejo, CA) came up with a huge tackle in the backfield on third and short to force the RMU offense off the field. Mandas finished with eight total tackles, 2.5 for a loss. Stephan Thomas (Egg Harbor Twp, NJ) finished with a team high nine tackles, including several on special teams.
Sacred Heart (5-3, 3-2 NEC) got its first big offensive play of the game on a 23-yard pass to Rock Tate (Lantana, FL) that put SHU into Robert Morris territory. The play also included a RMU personal foul and two snaps later it was Little who dove across the goal line following a 15-yard to knot the score at 10-10. The Colonials got good field position to start their next drive and capitalized for a field goal regain the edge, 13-10.
The Pioneer offense would answer right back with a 58-yard touchdown march. The final 40 yards of the drive came on back-to-back passes to Greg Moore (Newark, NJ). Moore finished the game with 171 all-purpose yards to go along with his 24-yard TD catch that gave SHU a 17-13 advantage heading into halftime.
The third quarter started as a defensive battle as neither side could pick up more than one first down on either of its first two possessions. The Pioneers broke through with the first points of the second half following a six play, 64-yard drive. Tate was left alone in the corner of the end zone and Little connected with his red-shirt junior receiver from seven yards out for six points, moving the score line to 24-13. Both defenses locked down yet again and combined to force six consecutive three and outs.
It would be the Sacred Heart special teams unit that came up with the next impact play of the afternoon. Preston Sanford (Birmingham, AL) delivered a big hit on RMU's Anthony Coleman as he attempted to field a bouncing punt. Sanford also recovered the loose ball, which would eventually lead to the final offensive score of the contest. Rogers came on shortly later to knock in a 28-yard field goal, giving Sacred Heart a two score cushion, 27-13, with 5:44 remaining in regulation.
Sinclair and the Colonials moved down the field with time winding down and faced a third and goal at the nine-yard line. Sierra stepped in front of a Sinclair pass headed for the end zone for his second interception, virtually sealing the win and completing the SHU defense's superb second half. The Pioneers then ran the ball three times, burning clock and Robert Morris' timeouts. Sacred Heart then elected for an intentional safety, accounting for the 27-15 final score, rather than punting from against the back line. The Sacred Heart defense allowed just 81 yards in the final thirty minutes and ended the game by turning away RMU's desperation passes.
"It's been different people making big plays each time out, Niko obviously stepped up today," said Gorham. "Mandas played well as usual and Embler was solid up front. But to play well on either side of the ball you have to get help from a lot of different places, everyone has been contributing
The Pioneers look to go 4-0 on the road and win back-to-back games next weekend as they travel to Staten Island, NY to take on the Wagner Seahawks.