When the schedule came out last winter, I quickly circled the date on the calendar: Saturday the 19th of September, 2009. It would be the day the eighth annual Liberty cup would be played. The benefit game between Fordham and Columbia is a fast growing rivalry between the only 2 division 1-AA (or FCS) teams in close proximity to each other in New York City. Columbia ‘s Morningside Heights campus is close to midtown Manhattan, While Fordham’s main campus is in the heart of the Bronx, surrounded by the Botanical gardens and the Metro North Harlem Line and the Fordham Road shopping district.
This would be my fourth year attending the game, and it’s always a pitched battle between the teams. Each year the game is highly anticipated and there are always several “back stories” about the players and coaches. This year was no different. The Rams return the Skelton brothers to the roster. John is the QB, and a senior, while Stephen is a junior who plays the “Y” position, more or less the tight end spot. Both are 6’5” tall. John has been mentioned in several circles as a pro prospect, and is well deserving of the attention, no matter who is proclaiming what ranking he is or should be. He gained 30 pounds two off seasons ago, and reminds some of a Joe Flacco type of quarterback, big and strong, yet still mobile. He moves well in the pocket, but is also a threat as a ball carrier as well. He does have an issue with his left knee. While it was never severely injured, he has had some soreness since increasing his size. Skelton was 25-47 for 383 yards, but was sacked twice and threw 3 interceptions to offset his 4 TD performance. Fordham punter Patrick Murray was named the Patriot League special teams player of the week for his 6 punt, 274 yard performance (45.7yd per kick average). On the defense for the Rams. Isiejah Allen let the unit with 11 Tackles (8 solo), and the unit overall amassed 96 total tackles.
All that said, we expected a quality game from both sides. Columbia has some special players of their own, including at least one player who has gained some recognition as well. Wide receiver Austin Knowlin, a 5”11” senior, has been a first team All-Ivy selection in his sophomore season, and a second team as a junior as both a kick/punt returner and a receiver. He has a natural ability to find the “gaps” in a defense when running his routes as a receiver, and has proven time and time again that he can find the end zone as a receiver and return man. Two other players earned player of the week honors for their play Saturday night. Sr. QB M.A. Olawale for his 13-23-167-2-TD performance (plus 50 yards net rushing), and Freshman punter Mike Willamson. Also deserving mention were RB Ray Rangel for his 25 carry 118 yards net rushing performance (One TD), and TE Andrew Kennedy who had 4 receptions for 83 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions’ defense was led by Adam Merher at Free Saftey, with 16 tackles (7 solo).
While the final was 40-28 Columbia, this game was closer then the score would indicate. An early missed XP conversion, as well as a late two point try after RCB Jared Morine’s Interception return for a TD kept the final score under a two Touchdown difference. The performance of both teams was a fitting tribute to the Charities supporting 9/11 victims from the NYC Police and Fire departments and the Port Authority Police attending the games, as well as setting an example for the youth football programs and H.S. teams’ players enjoying a Saturday evening honoring the game of football as well.