Fordham Falls in Final Seconds, 42-41

Rose Hill became Heartbreak Hill on Saturday afternoon as Bryant hit a last second 42 yard field goal to beat Fordham 42-41. Burned by their prevent defense, and a bit of a prevent offense as well, Fordham gave up 9 points in the final 1:50 while allowing the visitors to sneak out with the stunner. The Bryant comeback began with a 15 play, 99 yard touchdown drive and, after a defensive stop, followed with a 10 play, 67 yarder to set up the game winning kick. Before any of that however, Fordham appeared to be the team making the unexpected comeback. As if still thinking about last week’s big win over Lehigh, the Rams barely even bothered showing up during the early stages of this contest. First, Bryant’s fifth year senior quarterback, Price Wilson, took to the air in catching Fordham’s secondary sleeping for 76 yards on two plays to go up 7-0. After a three-and-out, the Bulldogs then went to the ground, while attacking an overly aggressive front seven, in pounding out one big run after another. Senior fullback Brenden Femiano did the most damage as just four minutes into the game Bryant was up 14-0. By then they had also out-gained Fordham 134 yards to 2.

The Rams finally showed signs of life on their second drive as halfback Tyriek Hopkins found a seam up the middle for a 47 yard dash. For the Florida transfer, who exploded for 117 yards against Lehigh, it was just a little foreshadowing to an even bigger day ahead. Still, freshman QB Tim DeMorat could not capitalize on the Hopkins break as a pair of incompletions later found the Rams settling for an Andrew Mevis field goal to finally get on the scoreboard. Although DeMorat opened with a 1-5 for 9 yards, like Hopkins, he too would record a few career highs before the 60 minutes were over. Not that either could do anything from the sidelines as the Fordham front seven was again gashed on two Alfred Dorbor runs totaling 68 yards. The second, coming on a double reverse to the powerful redshirt sophomore, put Bryant up 21-3 before even the first quarter’s halfway point. Things seemed to get worse from there. DeMorat connected on his first sharp looking pass of the contest but senior tight end Isaiah Searight promptly coughed up the ball to give Bryant their best starting field position of the day. Although Bryant punted on their next possession, another Fordham three-and-out not only preserved Bryant’s lead but also had them winning the field position battle.

Wilson used that field position to his advantage in completing a pair of short passes to get his Bulldogs back into the red zone during the nightmare quarter’s final minutes. Anthony Diodato, one of Fordham’s all-sophomore four men front, then came up big in stopping Dorbar on a fourth-and-one that could have iced things early. With help from sophomore linebacker Glenn Cunningham, Dorbor was swallowed up in the backfield, giving the game its first momentum shift of the afternoon. For a while it looked as if Fordham would never look back. DeMorat chipped away with not just crisp passes, but a few quarterback sneaks as well as the Rams responded with a field goal and touchdown to get within 21-13. After another hold the lanky Florida native led his troops on perhaps their smoothest drive of the year. A 22 yard sling to junior wideout Joe Ferraro followed by an 18 yard Hopkins run got things started as the Rams went on a 3 minute, 75 yard drive to close the half. The drive was capped by a two yard DeMorat touchdown toss, his 9th straight completion, to Searight who made up for his previous fumble with the snag.

Despite their small size, under 2,000 for the first time in 8 years, the home crowd seemed rowdier than at any point of the season while watching the Rams battle back from early disaster. They did more than just battle to open the third. Another TD drive, this one starting with a 21 yard Hopkins run and finishing with a 14 yard Hopkins scamper into the end zone gave Fordham their first lead of the afternoon. Although Bryant scored on their very next possession, Diodato blocked his second extra point in as many weeks while keeping things tied at 27. The teams traded touchdowns but another blocked extra point allowed Fordham to hold a 34-33 lead late in the third. A failed on-side kick by Bryant gave Fordham a chance to open up some breathing room entering the final period. They did just that as a mix of Hopkins runs and DeMorat passes, led to the young QB’s fourth touchdown pass of the game and a 41-33 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the back-and-forth affair. Freshman linebacker, Ryan Greenhagen, then capitalized on Wilson’s desperation to go deep while registering back-to-back sacks and forcing Bryant into another punt. Fordham punted the ball right back but a 70 yard Mevis blast, aided by a friendly roll, pinned the Bulldogs back to their own 1 yard line with 6:30 left on the clock. That’s when both teams made adjustments to change what should have been the impending outcome.

Still feeling the effects of Greenhagen’s rushes, and 99 yards away from, at best, a possible tie, Price Wilson decided against the long ball. Instead, he went short in chipping away for whatever he could get. Even so, Fordham forced Bryant into a fourth-and-three at their own 19. Unfortunately for the Rams, they never got the chance to make a stop as Diodato jumped offsides to keep the Bulldog drive alive. Perhaps to make up for the nose tackle’s aggressiveness, Fordham’s D suddenly turned complacent while willingly trading yards for seconds the rest of the way. This proved dangerous as Wilson found a rhythm. With Fordham playing so far off the ball the quarterback even returned to the ground, including the type of reverses that had already proved effective back in the first quarter. Big chunks of rushing yards, mixed with short passes to wide open receivers, kept the ball moving as a lackadaisical Fordham bunch wasn’t even capable of forcing another third down until Bryant reached the Rams’ two yard line. Even then Dorbor easily plowed through a suddenly suspect line for his second score of the day. Thankfully for the Rams, Wilson threw into coverage while going for two and, after a deflection, a Bulldogs receiver came up a yard short of tying the contest. Another failed on-side kick by Bryant put Fordham one first down away from victory. Up two with under two to go, Coach Joe Conlin found himself in position to secure Fordham’s first home victory of the year.

Starting at the Bulldogs’ 48, DeMorat, already holding personal bests with 19 completions and 4 touchdown passes, needed one more big play to end things. One more play to win the game. Instead, the Rams played not to lose. Despite Hopkins’ own personal best, 177 yards on the ground, Fordham twice went to him with Bryant showing an 8 man box. The results were predictable as Fordham gained no yards although they did force the Bulldogs into burning two timeouts. Facing a third-and-ten, Fordham somehow got even more conservative as DeMorat kept the ball himself for no gain. A final Bryant timeout was burned but they were given new life in the process. Mevis, who finished with an average of 47 yards a punt, once again pinned Bryant back, as the Bulldogs started their final drive from their own 9 yard line. Once again however Fordham fell deep into the prevent. Using a three man rush and acres of space behind that ineffective line, the Rams watched like spectators as Wilson methodically began picking them apart. Pass after pass, after pass, found receivers as Wilson completed 7 in a row, none for more than 11 yards to get to the Fordham 40. Finally, he went slightly longer as an open Tom Kennedy made his 13th catch of the game and 4th of the drive to get the ball to Fordham’s 24 with just four seconds left. With Bryant racing to get their kicking team on the field Fordham made another error in calling a timeout.

Instead of icing the kicker, it allowed walk-on sophomore Luke Samperi, the time to for some practice swings in setting up for the game winner. Despite coming off two blocked extra points and, having never made a field goal in his short career, Samperi proved to be calm, cool and collected while nailing the walk-off winner. The 42 yarder went straight down the middle and had plenty of leg to spare as the Bulldogs celebrated at the gun. The small but rowdy Rose Hill crowd fell silent in stunned disbelief. Still, for all the heartbreak in Fordham’s first last second home loss since 2012, there were positives too. Prior to the prevent schemes the Rams had turned a 21-3 deficit into a 41-33 lead. Hopefully, with the non-conference schedule now complete, Fordham will better learn how to close out games as they close the season with four straight league showdowns. The first of those four will be against Lafayette as the Rams look to bounce back with their first home win of the year.

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