MOON TOWNSHIP, Penn – The Sacred Heart University football team completed its magical run, winning the Northeast Conference Championship and a berth into the FCS playoffs following a 42-25 win over Robert Morris Saturday afternoon in Moon Township. A year removed from a 2-9 record and a last place NEC finish, Head Coach Mark Nofri and the Pioneers will play in the FCS playoffs for the first time in program history.
"I am so excited for these kids and the work that they put in," said Nofri following the win. "They changed the whole attitude and culture of SHU football. They guys played hard for 60 minutes and that's all you can ask for. It was a great win today."
Junior running back Keshaudas Spence (Dorchester, MA) ran for 111 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. Sophomore quarterback R.J. Noel (Lowell, MA) added 74 yards on the ground on six carries, including a 35-yard TD run in the third quarter. The rookie QB completed 10 of 19 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns.
Senior wide receiver Robert Dim (Sicklerville, NJ) caught three passes for 90 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown. Junior wide out Tyler Dube (Southington, CT) added three receptions for 63 yards and a score.
The Sacred Heart defense racked up six sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and three turnovers. Senior safety Alex Aitkens (Wood Ridge, NJ) and linebacker James Rentz (St. Augustine, FL) both snagged interceptions.
Following three straight punts to start the game, Dim jump-started the Pioneers with a 70-yard catch and run touchdown from Noel to give SHU a 7-0 lead. A great middle-screen play call created Dim following a cavalry of Pioneer blockers to the end zone.
After both teams exchanged two more punts, it was the SHU defense that created the next big play of the afternoon. Junior safety Gordon Hill (Sicklerville, NJ) came off the right side on a blitz, sacking Paul Jones and forcing him to fumble. Junior defensive end Connor Caveney (Fitchburg, MA) recovered and returned the fumble to the Robert Morris 19-yard line. One play later, on a little trickery from the Pioneers, Noel took a hand-off from back-up quarterback Evan Pittman (Baltimore, MD) and threw a 19-yard touchdown to sophomore wide out Moses Webb (Manassas, VA) in the back right of the endzone to take a 14-0 lead with 8:15 left in the second quarter.
Robert Morris drove the ball 52 yards on its next possession, but a one-handed interception by freshman linebacker James Rentz at the SHU two-yard line ended the chance with 5:02 left in the first half.
The Colonials got on the board on a Connor Shennan 41-yard field goal at the end of the first half to cut Sacred Heart's lead to 14-3 at halftime.
Sacred Heart added to its lead in the second half, after a Robert Morris punt set up SHU with great field position at the RMU 25-yard line. Two plays later, Noel faked a hand-off to Spence and scampered 35 yards to the end zone to give SHU a 21-3 lead with 6:08 remaining in the third quarter.
On Robert Morris' next possession, the Colonials drove the ball 49 yards and received yet another Connor Shennan field goal, this time from 26 yards to make it 21-6 SHU.
The Pioneers responded quickly with Noel connecting with Dube 34 yards down the sideline to put SHU up 28-6. Down by the largest deficit of the afternoon, the Colonials answered back. RMU mustered up a 65-yard scoring drive, capped off with a Ryan Thermil two-yard touchdown run. Robert Morris failed the two-point conversion, cutting the SHU lead to 28-12 with 9:43 left in the game.
Robert Morris' comeback attempt continued when A.J Holderman picked off Noel and returned it for a Colonial touchdown to cut the lead to ten with 4:44 left in the ball game. The Colonials two-point conversion was once again not successful.
Following a failed Robert Morris onside kick, SHU kept the ball on the ground with five straight rushes, including a game-icing 22-yard TD run by Spence to put SHU up 35-18 with 3:04 left.
Robert Morris kept fighting, answering Spence's run with a 52-yard touchdown drive ending with Deontae Howard running it in from five yards out to score the Colonials' final touchdown of the game.
Junior safety Gordon Hill capped off the Pioneers historic victory, returning the subsequent on-side kick 44 yards to the end zone to make the final margin 42-25.