For over five years the Fordham-Lehigh game has been a battle between two of the Patriot League’s best. Fordham dominated the league with a 16-2 run from 2013 through 2015 and the Mountain Hawks took it from there, going 11-1 in conference play since.
And with all due respect to this year’s league favorite Colgate, the winner of Fordham-Lehigh was supposed to again make some noise this year. That however, has been far from the case in a matchup that could only be called the Disappointment Bowl. With every Patriot League team not named Colgate playing poorly, no two programs have been as discouraging as (0-5) Fordham and (1-4) Lehigh.
Both have been absolute busts in just about every facet of the game. Even including Lehigh’s one win, the two teams have each been outscored by an average of 23 points per game. Fordham entered Saturday’s contest following their first home loss to Georgetown since 1974. Lehigh was even ore embarrassed following a 66-7 debacle to Princeton.
But in a game that, on paper at least, looked destined to produce an endless tie, Fordham finally did away with their half of disappointment and got their first win of the season 43-14.
The victory was also the first for for new coach Joe Conlin. Everything clicked as the Rams broke through with the type of blowout win they hadn’t produced since QB Kevin Anderson and all-time rushing leader Chase Edmonds were both still on the roster and healthy.
Despite a herculean effort from Fordham’s entire front seven, as well as another standout game from senior wide receiver Austin Longi, it was another QB/RB combo that led the way this time. Freshmen Tim DeMorat (14-13, 299 yards) and Naim Mayfield (19 carries, 89 yards) shined throughout while proving that despite their youth, the Rams aren’t suffering from any lack of talent.
Facing a cool but sunny afternoon practically made for football, DeMorat wasted no time in proving that the future is now. On the contest’s first play from scrimmage he rolled slightly to his left, and while receiving excellent protection, aired out a 46 yard bomb that not only had the arm strength but the touch to find a well-covered Longi for a 46 yard gain.
The drive led to no points as Andrew Mevis later missed a 46 yard field goal but the statement had been made. DeMorat, and his previously porous offensive line, would have few problems taking apart Mountain Hawks secondary. Lehigh responded the way they often had against the Rams in recent years.
Dom Bragalone, the Patriot League’s reigning offensive player of the year, took it straight up the gut for a 25- yard rumble and already made a career against the Rams. Averaging 173 yards per game and 8.5 yards per carry in three previous meetings against Fordham, the senior appeared quick to forget about his injury riddled 2018 campaign. “Appeared” being the operative word as, after Lehigh’s first play from scrimmage.
Bragalone was completely shutdown by Fordham’s front seven. Another strong performance by sophomore linebacker Glenn Cunningham and the all-sophomore defensive line of Anthony Diodato, Mike Marinelli and Ellis Taylor proved to be the difference. They all combined to make frequent visits into the Lehigh backfield and stop Bragalone cold.
Following his opening burst Bragalone was limited to just 9- yards on 18 carries as the Rams finally turned the tables on the big bruiser.
While Fordham’s defensive set their sights on stopping the run, they were again slow to establish their own ground game. In fact, Fordham ended the first quarter with -1 yards on the ground. That, combined with a couple of miscues slowing down the passing attack, including a Phil Saleh penalty nullifying another DeMorat-to-Longi bomb, and later a DeMorat fumble off a quick snap kept things scoreless into the second quarter.
Still, Fordham was winning the war in the trenches while also showing an ability to make big offensive plays. One of those finally led to points as DeMorat found wideout Jonathan Lumley completely open on a simple crossing route. With no defenders in sight, the 6’4 senior took the 15 yard gain and turned it to a 73- yard touchdown toss.
Taking a page from Georgetown’s playbook, Fordham added to the festivities in surprising the hosts by going for two. DeMorat found sophomore tight end Jack Gildea covered only by other Fordham receivers as the Rams jumped to an 8-0 lead.
With Bragalone already a non-factor, Lehigh senior quarterback, Brad Mayes and junior wide receiver Devon Bibbens took it upon themselves to stop the momentum. A 45 -yard connection got them into Fordham territory and the two hooked up again a few plays later to cut the lead to 8-6. Diodato blocked Ed Mish’s extra point to keep the score 8-6. Lehigh would get no closer as Fordham half back Naim Mayfield took over from there.
The diminutive freshman entered the game with two carries for -1 yards in his young career. Despite those numbers, he showed an explosiveness not seen from any Ram rusher all season long. The 5’9”/165 pound speedster also proved slippery in getting away from tackles and at times, even going through tackles while closing the half with 64 yards on 11 carries. His ability at keeping Lehigh’s defense honest reestablished the passing game for DeMorat as he again found Longi on another 40+ yard bomb to the Lehigh half yard line.
A Mayfield high-dive up the middle proved to be all Fordham would need in going up 15-6. Still, Mayfield and DeMorat mixed pass and run beautifully for the remainder of the half in leading another TD drive and takng a 22-6 advantage at the break. Forced to pass, the Lehigh offense became as one dimensional as the one Fordham had featured for the first five contests of the season.
Although Mayes, first team all-league in 2017, and Bibbens continued to slice through the Ram secondary, the front seven brought enough pressure to keep the bending D from ever breaking. A Mayes fumble was followed by a deflected pass that fell into the hands of Jesse Bramble, the junior corner’s second pick of the game. Meanwhile DeMorat and Mayfield continued to eat up yards and clock. Junior running back Tyriek Hopkins joined the festivities in taking advantage of a gassed Lehigh defensive line.
The Florida transfer was unforgiving in turning big holes into big gains while ending the day on 117 yards on just 16 (13 of which came in the second half) carries. Yet, it was another crossing pattern which turned things into a blowout. Late in the third, DeMorat found Corey Caddle up the middle for a medium gain until the wide-open senior wideout took it to the house, 87 yards later.
Even while resorting solely to the run afterwards, Fordham never took its foot off the pedal. A 20 yard dash by Hopkins made it 36-6 and after Mayes attempted to make things somewhat respectable with a 21 yard touchdown pass to freshman Austin Dambach and a two-point toss to sophomore Jorge Portorreal to cut things to 36-14, Fordham again pounded out another Mayfield TD for the 43-14 final.
In the end, Fordham found the breakout game they’ve been looking for all season long. Perhaps it’s too late to salvage a winning record but the Rams have proven that their young talent is indeed talented. A big first step going forward and perhaps the beginning of something special.
Fordham returns home next Saturday afternoon and oppose Bryant, the first of three consecutive games at Rose Hill.