By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 6- On Saturday, the 8/9 nationally ranked Fordham Rams (9-0) gifted head coach Joe Moorhead with a come-from-behind 32-30 victory over the Holy Cross Crusaders (3-7) for his 40th birthday. Fordham extended its undefeated season to nine games and earned the school the Ram-Crusader Cup, which is awarded to the winner of each contest between the two.
The capacity crowd at Jack Coffey Field in the Bronx was given a jolt early in the game as it appeared Fordham could lose its first game of the 2013 season. Fordham’s first scoring attempt, a 22-yard field goal by Michael Marando, was unsuccessful at 8:20 of the first quarter.
On the next drive of the contest, the Crusaders moved the ball 80 yards for the first score as quarterback Peter Pujals ran the ball for five yards and a touchdown. The extra point was missed.
Fordham took its first lead of the game on the next series of downs as Calvin Koonce, the team’s leading rusher, scored on an 11-yard carry. Fordham led, 7-6, at the end of the quarter.
The outcome looked bleak as the Crusaders scored the next 17 points. The first of those points was scored on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Pujals to Kyle Toulouse.
A 52-yard complete pass from Fordham quarterback Michael Nebrich to Tebucky Jones did not result in a touchdown as a fumble was forced and recovered by Holy Cross on its one yard line.
After the contest, Jones remarked, “I made a mistake; that’s not acceptable. That’s not going to happen again.”
It didn’t on Saturday as Jones completed the game with 120 yards on six receptions. Jones has 59 receptions and 789 yards this year. The Crusader possession following the fumble ended with a 46 yard field goal kicked by John Macomber.
Later in the second, a Nebrich pass was intercepted at the Holy Cross goal line, preventing another Fordham touchdown. The new possession by the Crusaders concluded with a Holy Cross touchdown instead, which brought the score to 23-7.
The final score of the first half was a 10-yard touchdown run by Nebrich.
Fordham exhibited its resilience in the second. After the contest, Morrhead said of his team, “In the second half, the team showed outstanding character.”
Nebrich scored his second touchdown of the afternoon on a seven-yard run on Fordham’s first drive of the second half for the only score by either squad in the third quarter.
Fordham next scored seven seconds into the final period as Nebrich threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Brian Wetzel. Dan Light scored the two-point conversion to give the Rams a 29-23 advantage.
The next Fordham drive culminated in a 39-field goal by Marando.
The final Crusader touchdown shortened the Fordham lead to 32-30, but was too late to alter the outcome of the contest.
Records were set by the Rams in the victory. The team broke its single game mark for total offense with 700 yards. Nebrich broke two of John Skelton’s single game records, passing yards gained with 524 on 39 completions of 49 attempts and total offense yards with 556.
Significant contributions were also made by others. Calvin Koonce gained 146 yards on the ground and 38 on three receptions. For the second straight year, he exceeded 1,000 yards (1,025) on the ground this season.
Sam Ajala gained 189 yards on 12 receptions, the junior leads the Rams with 64 receptions and 1,140 yards gained.
Linebacker Stephen Hodge had a career-high 15 tackles, 14 unassisted and four for yards lost. Moordhead praised the junior in a post-game press conference, “He’s a playmaker. The kid knows how to play the game of football.”
The night before the game, Moorhead told his players of the Heavyweight Championship bout in 1990 between Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas in which the prohibitive favorite, Tyson, lost. Moorhead explained the purpose of the story, “I didn’t want us to be overconfident or take our opponent too lightly.”
That possibility, the one-week bye and costly turnovers that Moorhead said, “Didn’t allow us to take advantage [of the yards we gained]” may have led to a slow start, but did not prevent Fordham from being victorious.
Fordham’s next game will be against Bucknell at 1 pm on Saturday, November 9. It will be the final home game of the regular season.