It was a well-played battle to honor Joe Walton on Saturday as the Robert Morris Colonials (1-1) defeated the Howard Bison (0-4) by the score of 22-16. Both teams provided a few strong defensive stops and some big offensive plays, the latter especially happening in the second half.
The first quarter was all defense as only one drive was able to make it to their opponent’s end and that was the opening drive by Howard. Howard drove 55 yards down the field to start the game, all the way to RMU’s 20, but was stopped on fourth down after the RMU defense forced a Quinton Williams incompletion. RMU’s defensive line was stout all day, giving up just 2.9 yards per carry on the run game and sacking Williams 6 times, with an additional 6 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
“We’re happy we won,” said RMU Head Coach Bernard Clark. “Victories are always so good. We have to relish in victories that are not easy to get and obviously this one was not easy to get.”
RMU scored first early into the second quarter on a five-yard QB sneak by George Martin. Martin had five rushes for 17 yards in the game, RMU had a total of 180 in the game as a team with Alijah Jackson counting for 112 of that on 26 carries.
Later in the second quarter, Williams found Tayshaun Porter for a 12 yard touchdown to tie things up at seven. Williams was important for Howard in this game despite the strong pressure from the RMU front seven. Williams had a 119.1 QBR and completed 62.5% of his passes. He threw for 254 yards and had a touchdown as well as an interception in the loss.
RMU followed up Howard’s touchdown drive with one of their own as they needed just seven plays to go 75 yards in about four minutes. This drive started with an interception by Lorenzo Euline, who gave RMU the ball at the 50 yard line. It was capped off by a 45 yard TD pass to De’Andre Hicks.
Hicks had great positioning on the play, getting in front of the Howard defender for the catch, then managed to stay on his feet and waltz into the end zone for the separating score. It was the first of two touchdown catches by Hicks on the day.
“We don’t panic,” said Hicks on how the offense overcame the first quarter struggles. “We stick to ourselves. When it comes down to it, we’re competing against ourselves. I don’t care if we’re playing Bama or if we’re playing Howard. We’re competing against ourselves.”
Howard got the ball back with 3:24 left in the half, but didn’t manage to score. In fact, they took off 2:26 to go 17 yards and give the ball back to RMU. Howard’s defense managed to hold RMU to just 16 yards on the ensuing drive and the game went into halftime with a 14-7 RMU lead.
The first half was centered with strong defensive stops. Despite their being a combined 13 drives in the first half, only four managed to go for at least 50 yards and only four managed to cross midfield. This was despite Clark saying the team struggled to tackle out of the gate.
“The thing is when we started out we weren’t tackling very well,” said Clark. “Coach Plungas was calling good plays, we were just missing tackles. As the game along went along, we started tackling better. Once we started tackling better, that’s when we were able to start slowing them down a little bit.”
In the second half, Howard used a pair of long drives to take their first and only lead over RMU in the game at 16-14. The first one, a 14 play, 79 yard drive, resulted in a touchdown run by Williams. After a delay to check on an injured player, the PAT was blocked by Matthew Holmes. A 15 play, 83 yard drive capped by a 27 yard field goal by Faraji Woodson gave Howard a 16-14 lead with 9:04 left in the game.
After the field goal, RMU started on their own 23 yard line. They had their longest drive of the game on the ensuing posession, an 11 play, 77 yard drive that took almost six minutes (5:55) off the clock and resulted in Hicks’ second touchdown catch of the game. Hicks had quite the day, in addition to his two touchdown catches he caught four passes for 68 yards, both team-highs. Howard turned the ball over on downs following RMU’s TD and RMU won 22-16.
The game was followed by a memorial service for legendary RMU head coach Joe Walton, who passed away this past summer. Clark was passionate this week about honoring the man who started the program, and did so with his win on Saturday.
“To do it on (Walton’s) memoralizing day is outstanding,” said Clark. “The fact now that we can celebrate the victory along with celebrating him and celebrating his legacy is something very special.”
“Everything we’re doing right now is because of (Joe Walton),” said Hicks. “We kind of just took the blueprint from him and we’re trying to just keep playing ball and keep doing that. This field, all the fans, all that stuff, he laid the foundation for us. It’s exciting for us to get out with Coach Clark and keep living Joe Walton’s dream.”
RMU will travel to Greensboro next week to take on North Carolina A&T (0-2) for their first conference game of the year. RMU returns home on October 9th to host Charleston Southern (1-1) in the first-ever Big South game at Joe Walton Stadium.