Bronx, NY—A capacity crowd was drawn to Jack Coffey Field in the Bronx on Saturday afternoon to watch two undefeated, offensive college football powerhouses, the Fordham University Rams (6-0) and the Lehigh Mountain Lions (4-1) clash. The contest was the first in the Patriot League between two undefeated and ranked teams since 2009. At game time, Fordham was nationally ranked 13/12 and Lehigh 10/13 in the FCS.
The Fordham offense moved steadily on its first series of downs. The Rams marched 78 yards across the field. A 25 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Nebrich to Sam Ajala culminated the successful drive.
The Rams took the football to the Lehigh nine yard line in their second possession, but settled for a 26 yard field goal by Michael Marando at 4:10 to raise the Fordham advantage to 10-0.
The highly rated Lehigh offense was finally heard from at the close of the first quarter as senior Brandon Bialkowski threw a 9 yard pass to fellow senior Sergio Fernandez-Soto for the first Lehigh touchdown of the afternoon, which cut the deficit to 10-7.
The Rams were first on the board again in the second quarter as sophomore Jared Crayton ended an 80 year drive with a 3 yard touchdown run at 10:17.
The final touchdown of first half was a replication of the first score as Nebrich again connected with Ajala with a 40 yard touchdown pass. Fordham led, 24-14, at the half.
The next Fordham score at 5:33 of the third was the third in which Nebrich and Ajala combined. The yardage for the score again increased as this touchdown was for 62 yards. Ajalaa’s three touchdowns doubled his total for 2013.
At the time of the next touchdown for the Mountain Hawks, 2:58 in the third, Fordham led by only three points, 31-28.
Two turnovers by Lehigh led to the next two touchdowns for the Rams as the home team took full advantage of the Lehigh miscues.
Fordham’s Ada Malkiewicz recovered a Lehigh fumble on the Lehigh 15 with 1:32 left in the third quarter. After a five yard penalty against Fordham, Carlton Koonce, Fordham’s record holding ground gainer, ran 20 yards for a touchdown.
The next drive by the Mountain Hawks was halted at the Fordham 29 as Levon Williams made the only interception of the contest. On the sixth play of the Fordham drive, quarterback Nebrich ran one yard to score Fordham’s sixth touchdown of the afternoon.
Lehigh’s coach, Andy Coen, now in his eighth serason at the helm, recognized the importance of his team’s errors, “The game flipped on the turnovers. They [Fordham] scored off that. That obviously was a difference.” He pointed out that a 31-28 contest with Lehigh in possession of the football became a 45-28 game shortly after those plays.
The remaining minutes of the fourth quarter did not affect the result.
There were many contributors to the victory on the Fordham offensive and defensive sides. Nebrich was especially effective. He completed 26 of 36 passes, four for touchdowns and none intercepted. The 384 yards gained was bettered only 11 times in Fordham history, including a 413 yard performance by current coach Joe Moorhead in 1995.
Coach Coen of Lehigh expressed extremely high praise for the opposing quarterback [Nebrich], “He’s the best one [quarterback] I’ve seen in my tenure at Lehigh [eight years]. He’s got great skill. He’s obviously well-coached.”
Koonce’s 127 yards gained on the ground raised his 2013 total to 752 in the six contests. Ajala caught seven passes for a career high total of 166 yards and three touchdowns. Marando scored 10 points on a field goal and seven extra points to raise his year’s points to a team high 58.
Fordham’s six wins to begin the year has not been accomplished since 1988. The last season that the Rams began a season with seven consecutive victories was 1930.
Fordham will carry its undefeated mark to D.C. next Saturday afternoon as the Rams face the Georgetown Hoyas. The Rams will not return to Jack Coffey Field until November 2, when they host Bucknell.