FCS team of the week: Robert Morris keeps the surprise coming

RMU football v Dayton. Photo by Jason Cohn

(STATS) - Go through the conference leaders across FCS college football and a case could have been made before the season for almost all of them.

Not Robert Morris, though. Not even remotely in the Northeast Conference.

On Saturday, the biggest surprise among first-place teams improved to 5-0 in the NEC, knocking preseason favorite Duquesne out of a tie for the lead with a 41-21 win. The Colonials - the STATS FCS Team of the Week - entered the season with a 14-game conference losing streak and with 17 straight losses against Division I opponents and 18 in a row on the road.

While the Colonials (6-4) trailed at halftime in their four previous NEC games, they must like the front-runner experience. They built a 20-0 first-half lead against Duquesne before absolutely mauling their Pittsburgh backyard rival with defense in the second half, ending a six-game losing streak in the series with their highest point total against the Dukes.

"Our young men played together," second-year coach Bernard Clark Jr. said. "Our guys did a good job executing things we set out for them. We were facing a team in Duquesne that was a champion last year. If we would've got behind on them, there's no telling what could've happened, so I'm proud of the start we had."

Robert Morris forced seven turnovers, including five in the second half. Jacob White's first-quarter interception set up the Colonials' first touchdown and fellow defensive back Mason Gray twice extended 13-point leads in the second half with pick-sixes, spanning 36 and 81 yards. Linebacker Aniello Buzzacco finished with a game-high 11 tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.

The Colonials were so good on defense they needed only 280 offensive yards. Quarterback George Martin had both a touchdown run and pass, and Terence Stephens carried the ball 20 times for 119 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown.

Up next for Robert Morris is another first-place showdown at Central Connecticut State (9-1, 5-0). With another upset, the Colonials would clinch the NEC's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2010.

HONORABLE MENTION: No. 13 Dartmouth (27-10 win over No. 10 Princeton); Grambling State (19-16 overtime win over Alcorn State); No. 2 James Madison (54-16 win over No. 23 New Hampshire); Lafayette (23-20 win over Holy Cross); Morgan State (22-16 win over No. 14 North Carolina A&T); Southeastern Louisiana (34-0 win over No. 7 Central Arkansas)