Pittsburgh -- The Robert Morris University football team clinched a share of the 2010 Northeast Conference championship and in the process earned the league's inaugural bid to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs Saturday afternoon with a 42-24 victory over Central Connecticut State at Joe Walton Stadium.
RMU posted its eighth straight victory to improve to 8-1 overall and a perfect 7-0 in the NEC, while the Blue Devils slipped to 6-3 overall and 5-1 in league play.
For the third time in the last four games the Colonials scored on their opening possession, marching 55 yards on just five plays before sophomore quarterback Jeff Sinclair (Natrona Heights, Pa. / Highlands) hit senior wide receiver T.J. Green (Stamford, Conn. / Milford Academy) with a 20-yard touchdown pass to give Robert Morris an early 7-0 lead.
CCSU answered on its opening possession with a 29-yard field goal from Joe Izzo to trim RMU's lead to 7-3, but the Colonials came right back, using just two plays that covered 41 yards and used 30 seconds off the clock to take a 14-3 advantage with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Sinclair to junior tight end Shadrae King (McKeesport, Pa. / McKeesport).
The offensive fireworks in the first quarter continued when the Blue Devils used a six-play, 60-yard drive to climb within 14-10 on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Gunnar Jespersen to Chris Tolbert with 5:14 to go in the first quarter.
RMU put its third touchdown of the first quarter on the board at the 2:01 mark thanks to great play from both its special teams and defense. Senior punter Nick Schirtzinger (Hurricane, W. Va. / Hurricane) pinned a 35-yard punt down at the two-yard line of the Blue Devils, and on the first play of CCSU's drive Everette Benjamin was hit by senior linebacker Alex DiMichele (Pittsburgh, Pa. / Sto-Rox) and fumbled.
DiMichele pounced on the loose ball to give possession back to RMU, and on the next play senior fullback Jeff Link (Cumberland, Md. / Allegany) scored from a yard out to give Robert Morris a 21-10 advantage.
Redshirt senior running back Raphael Johnson (Clinton, Md. / Charles H. Flowers) helped Robert Morris open up a 28-10 advantage for the Colonials at the 6:05 mark of the second quarter with a two-yard touchdown run that capped a 16-play, 80-yard drive, but Central Connecticut State answered quickly to close within 28-17 when Jespersen hit Josue Paul with a 60-yard touchdown pass just eight seconds later.
Holding an 11-point advantage entering the second half, senior running back Myles Russ (Boca Raton, Fla. / West Boca) helped RMU put points on the board on its first possession after intermission with a 44-yard touchdown scamper down the visiting sideline. The run helped Russ eclipse 4,000 career rushing yards, becoming just the fourth player in NEC history to turn the trick.
Link scored for the second time on the afternoon with a six-yard touchdown run with just 48 seconds remaining in the third quarter to give Robert Morris a commanding 42-17 lead, and the Blue Devils scored their final touchdown of the game at the 11:01 mark of the fourth quarter with a one-yard run by Jespersen.
Robert Morris established a single-game team record by racking up 335 yards rushing against CCSU on 57 attempts, an average of 5.9 yards per carry.
Russ led the way with his third straight 100-yard rushing effort and sixth of the season with 177 yards on 24 carries, an average of 7.4 yards per attempt. Thanks to his performance against the Blue Devils, Russ eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing barrier for the third straight season, the first Colonial in school history to accomplish the feat.
Senior running back Josh Keil (Valencia, Pa. / Mars Area) added 59 yards on just six carries, Johnson chipped in with 50 yards on 11 attempts and Sinclair added 42 yards on eight rushes.
The Colonials finished with 475 yards of total offense, a season high, as Sinclair finished 10-for-18 passing for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Jespersen completed 14 of his 22 passing attempts for 283 yards and two touchdowns for Central Connecticut State but was intercepted twice. Benjamin led CCSU on the ground with 76 yards on 19 carries.
Green led the receiving corps for the Colonials with five catches for 92 yards and a touchdown, while Paul finished with five catches for 156 yards and a score for Central Connecticut State.
DiMichele and senior linebacker Elias Navarro (Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / South Plantation) tied for game-high honors with 13 tackles each. Navarro produced three quarterback hurries, a sack among three tackles for losses that totaled 15 yards and a forced fumble. Senior defensive lineman Chris Roberts (Bear, Del. / Caravel Academy) contributed a career-high 10 tackles.
Robert Morris closes out its 2010 regular season Saturday, Nov. 13, with a Noon kickoff against Bryant at Bulldog Stadium in Smithfield, R.I.