Story and photo courtesy of Bryant Athletics
SMITHFIELD, R.I. – In a game that featured seven lead changes, Jordan Harris's (Lincoln University, Pa.) 16-yard touchdown reception with 5:35 left proved to be the final one as the Bryant University football team earned its first win of the season, 38-35, over Robert Morris on Saturday afternoon at Bulldog Stadium.
The Bulldogs (1-6, 1-4 NEC) and the Colonials (1-5, 0-3 NEC) gave the 3,682 fans in attendance for Parents and Family Weekend more than their fair share of excitement as they combined for 900 yards of total offense and 43 second-half points. Bryant snapped a program-record seven-game losing streak and extended its unbeaten streak over RMU to five.
Junior quarterback Mike Westerhaus (Farmingville, N.Y.) had the best game of his career on Saturday against the Colonials, throwing for a program-record 350 yards and four touchdowns in the victory. No pass was more important than his last one, however. With his team trailing 35-31 and facing a third-and-six from the RMU 16, Westerhaus stood in the pocket and fired a strike to Harris in the back of the endzone before being hit hard by a charging Colonial player. Harris found room and caught the pass and kept himself inbounds to give the Bulldogs the lead.
The touchdown reception put the Bulldogs on top and the defense did the rest to close out the victory. On Robert Morris' next possession, the Black and Gold dialed up a blitz on third-and-seven and it paid off. Brendan Murphy (Totowa, N.J.) got through the line untouched and, with the help of Connor McNamara (Sandy Hook, Conn.), brought down Jeff Sinclair for a 16-yard loss and the rest was history.
The see-saw battle began on RMU's first possession of the game. Sinclair's 27-yard scamper on third-and-11 kept the Colonials drive alive and put the ball on the Bryant 13. On the very next play, Sinclair connected with Duane Mitchell for a 13-yard scoring strike to make it 7-0.
As was the case all afternoon, Bryant immediately responded. Westerhaus led the charge, completing 7-of-9 passes for 66 yards in leading the Bulldogs on a 15-play, 75-yard drive. He connected with Chad Ward (Delray Beach, Fla.) for 15 yards on third down and then hit him again two plays later for 15 more yards on a second-and-15. A nine-yard completion to Harris put the Bulldogs inside the RMU 10 and two plays later, Westerhaus hit a wide-open Michael Perry (Dunmore, Pa.) for a two-yard touchdown strike.
The score started a string of 16-straight points for the Bulldogs. Following a Colonials punt, Westerhaus hit Harris in stride for a 43-yard completion to put Bryant on the RMU side of the field and three plays later, freshman Dom Kozlowski (Westford, Mass.) made it 10-7 with a 47-yard field goal.
Bryant didn't stop there, as a holding penalty and an Aaron Dixon (Danbury, Conn.) sack helped the Black and Gold get the ball right back. This time, it took just four plays for the Bulldogs to find pay dirt. Facing a third-and-17, the Bulldogs called for a screen pass and it worked perfectly as Ricardo McCray (Middletown, R.I.) caught the dumpoff and scampered 22 yards for a first down. On the very next play, Jordan Brown (Glastonbury, Conn.) broke off his best run of the season, making two players miss before cutting back across the field and into the corner of the endzone for a 43-yard touchdown run.
Staying true to form, the Colonials rallied with a score of their own to cut the deficit to two. Donte Jeter's 31-yard rush on a reverse put RMU into Bryant territory and Sinclair's second TD pass, a 15-yarder, four plays later made it 16-14.
Neither team would score before the half ended but that only set up a memorable second half. On Robert Morris' first play in the second half, McNamara jumped up and intercepted Sinclair's pass, giving the Bulldogs the ball on the RMU 20. Bryant was unable to score, however, missing on a 27-yard field goal, and the Colonials capitalized with a strong drive. Sinclair's 26-yard rush on first-and-20 kept the drive alive and then he scored on a two-yard scamper to cap a 10-play, 80-yard drive. The score put RMU up 21-16.
Bryant needed just five plays to retake the lead. Westerhaus and Harris connected for gains of 11 and 23 yards to put the ball on the RMU 43 and then McCray showed off his speed. Westerhaus dumped the ball off to the second-year Bulldog and he made one man miss before speeding down the sideline and into the endzone for a 43-yard touchdown. It was his second touchdown of the season.
Robert Morris then one-upped the Bulldogs, retaking the lead with a seven-play, 90-yard drive. Sinclair connected with Mitchell and Jeter for 28 yards and 34 yards, respectively, on back-to-back plays to put the ball on the Bryant five. Nick Groat then scored on a five-yard run to make it 28-24.
This time it took Bryant seven plays to retake the lead. Westerhaus connected with Harris for 35 yards down to the RMU 18 but the Bulldogs eventually found themselves in a fourth-and-two situation to start the fourth quarter. The Black and Gold went for it and instead of running the ball, threw the ball as Harris corralled the pass, made his defender miss and dove to extend the ball into the endzone.
Bryant's defense then forced the Colonials to punt and started its possession at the 50. Seven plays later and facing a third-and-18, the Bulldogs appeared to be dealt another harsh defeat. Westerhaus's pass deflected out of the hands of Harris and right to Brad Banas who returned it 55 yards to put RMU up 35-31.
Plays similar to that have doomed the Bulldogs over the course of the season but not on Saturday. Bryant immediately drove down the field as Westerhaus hit Ryan Barrett (Holliston, Mass.) for a first down and then McCray barreled his way to a first down run on second down to put the ball on the RMU 20. Two plays later, Westerhaus took the hit to make the play and give the Bulldogs their first win of the season.
Westerhaus's 350 yards broke the previous record of 328 set by Mike Croce last season against Albany. He also tied the school record with four touchdown passes, becoming the first QB in over two years to accomplish the feat. Harris recorded his third 200-yard receiving day and tied Matt Tracey for the program record with 19-career touchdown receptions.
The Bulldogs will look for their second consecutive victory next weekend when they travel to West Long Branch, N.J., to face Monmouth. Kickoff is schedule for 1:00 p.m.