In a contest pitting two 1-9 clubs, played in front of 1,100 people (half of whom showed up as empty seats) in a post-blizzard setting assuring all that winter is indeed coming, someone had to win. 60 minutes and 6 turnovers later, Fordham was that someone. Weather delayed the season opener. Weather delayed the season finale. In between, progress was delayed by injuries, poor clock management and a general inexperience which comes with a green coaching staff and a greener roster. Still, and even after defeating a team that everyone not named Holy Cross had already defeated, none of that mattered as the Rams celebrated their well earned, 17-14 victory.
Between the dreary setting at Christy Mathewson Stadium, the weak competition (no Patriot League affair had matched programs this unsuccessful since the 1995 Colgate-Holy Cross closer) and a possible, subconscious desire to simply end the season, Fordham could have just mailed it in. Instead, the Rams defense fought to the gun and their beleaguered offense did just enough down the stretch to fend off Bucknell while preserving their second win of the year. Might not sound like much but for a young, rebuilding lot, the win was exactly what Fordham needed before heading into the long off-season.
With every single Patriot League team aside from Colgate’s senior-laden squad finishing with a losing record (a sad fact that’s now happened for two straight years), there is a legitimate feel that Fordham will contend in 2019. That’s the type of optimism which came with Saturday’s triumph. One which, from Bucknell’s opening drive, featured enough big plays to leave Fordham somewhat excited going forward. Again, somewhat.
Unfortunately for the Rams, the game began with another inauspicious start. A three-and-out on offense and a shanked 11 yard punt by three-time Patriot League special teams Player of the Week, Andrew Mevis, allowed the Bison to setup shop at Fordham’s 40. The Rams’ hard hitting, fast rushing defensive set the tone from there however. After allowing one Bucknell first down, they stopped the Bison cold to force a field goal attempt. The 40 yarder was blocked by sophomore linebacker Jeremy Imperati (amazingly, Fordham’s 7th blocked kick of the season) and scooped up by Antonio Jackson who sprinted his way to the Bison 12. Jackson was just getting started as the Rams capitalized two plays later for the 7-0 lead.
The sides traded punts until Bucknell succeeded on their lone long scoring drive of the day to knot things up at 7 midway into the second period. Just before the half, and with Bucknell attempting another long drive, Jackson came through again. This time the senior safety jumped John Chiarolanzio’s throw, found his blockers, and somehow tiptoed his way 70 yards down the sideline to put the Rams up 14-7 entering the break.
Chiarolanzo opened the third quarter with his second pick, this time to junior corner Jesse Bramble, giving Fordham a chance to put things away. The Bison defense however proved just as stingy as their maroon counterparts while limiting Fordham to three and remaining within striking distance at 17-7. Again the teams traded punts. They traded hits and injuries too, perhaps none bigger than the one to Dan Lombard. Fordham’s senior center went off early in the third while starting tailback Tyriek Hopkins went out shortly later, further throwing off an already bunglesome offense. Freshman, Tim DeMorat, did his best with the short passing game but, with no one to hand the rock to and with three other true freshman (and two sophomores) blocking up front, Fordham’s offense quickly went in reverse. High snaps, low snaps and eventually a fumbled snap led to a Bucknell touchdown as the home side inched closer, 17-14.
Even in an empty stadium covered with snow a slight tension was building. The tide seemed to be turning. Fordham, which had previously failed in tight fourth quarter showdowns against Georgetown, Bryant, Lafayette and Holy Cross, was in danger of following a familiar script. The defense would need to produce more big plays. They did just that. First Bramble deflected an out pass that ricocheted its way into the hands of senior linebacker, Noah Fitzgerald. Then Jackson made sure that a fourth down Chiarolanzo pass went incomplete for a loss of downs. Then sophomore end, Ellis Taylor, came up with a big sack, forcing a Bucknell punt. Still, despite the three straight stops, the only thing Fordham’s offense could add was a Mevis missed field goal. Not that the Rams necessarily needed to score again, but while up 17-14, they’d at least need one time consuming drive to secure victory.
With over six minutes left in the fourth, Fordham’s offense needed to dig deep. Starting at their own 20, converted quarterback, Colton Smith, pounded his way up the middle for a pair of first downs while actual quarterback DeMorat made good on a couple of clutch passes to keep the clock ticking. The first of those throws was to senior wideout, Austin Longi, who ended his stellar Fordham career fifth all-time in receiving yards. The second was to senior, Isaiah Searight, who ended his Fordham career third all-time in receiving yards for a tight end. Then it was back to Smith, the fifth-string running back, who ended his career rushing for the winning first down. After all the near-misses, for one game, particularly the gutsy final drive of that one game, the Rams finally had reason to again celebrate as the clock ticked down to zero.
Obviously not much good can be said of a 2-9 campaign. But, in watching the opposing sidelines after Saturday’s tilt, it sure beats 1-10. In Fordham’s case that 2-9 also comes with potential. Although Lombard, Longi, Searight and Corey Caddle (who finished with a team high 44 receiving yards) will all be missed on offense, as will senior linebackers Fitzgerald and Lawrence Menyah, not to mention the bulk of a secondary starring Jackson and Dylan Mabin (who finished with three pass break ups) on defense, the core to both units return next year. This includes DeMorat, all his currently injured running backs, and 80% of his line. Defensively, an entire front seven of starters and experienced backups return as well to build on the valiant effort put forth against Bucknell. Hardly a Seven Blocks of Granite collection, but a young group who, over the next couple of years, can match what Colgate has been doing for the past couple of years.
Still a long way to go but the road to redemption starts on August 31st, 2019 when Fordham hosts Central Connecticut State. The first stop in what will hopefully be a revenge tour for the Rams.