Fordham Rams Win First Round FCS Playoff Contest

Howard Goldin

Bronx, NY---A historic college football game was played at Jack Coffey Field on the Bronx campus of Fordham University on Saturday afternoon. Fordham(13-1)  hosted its first FCS playoff contest, in the first round of the 2013 Division I championship and the Sacred Heart Pioneers (10-3) were making their first FCs playoff appearance.

The weather was not a factor in the outcome as skies were clear, winds were blowing more than 10 mph and the temperature was in the 30’s.

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend did not decrease interest in the game as nearly 5,000 of the 7,000+ seats were filled with enthusiastic Rams rooters.

The result of the hard fought contest was primarily determined by turnovers. Each of the four turnovers of the Pioneers led to a Fordham Rams score.

The first turnover of the afternoon was an interception of a Michael Nebrich pass by J. D. Roussel, that he carried 52 yards to the Fordham 13. The scoring opportunity was nullified two plays later as Keshaudas Spence, the North East Conference (NEC) Offensive Player of the Year, fumbled the football, which was recovered by Levon Williams on the Fordham 30.

The Fordham drive that followed culminated in a 32 yard touchdown pass from Nebrich to Tebucky Jones, Jr. at 6:23 of the first quarter. The extra point kicked by Michael Marando gave the Rams a 10-7 advantage.

Seconds into the second quarter, the same Fordham combination, Jake Rodrigues, who again caused Spence to fumble and Williams, who recovered the ball, set the stage for another Fordham touchdown. A 19 yard Nebrich pass to another of his favorite receivers, Sam Ajala, brought the Fordham lead to 24-7 at 13:22 of the second quarter.

The visitors hung tough and cut the Rams advantage to four points, 31-27, before the third quarter concluded.

Sacred Heart’s first drive of the final period was stopped at Fordham’s 32 as Jordan Chapman picked off a pass by the Pioneers’ quarterback, R. J. Noel, and carried it 35 yards to the Sacred Heart’s 33. The Fordham drive stalled at the 15, but Marando kicked a 32 yard field goal to increase Fordham’s lead to 34-27 at 11:29.

The final scoring opportunity of the afternoon began with an interception of a Noel pass by Williams at the Fordham 29. Not only was a scoring threat by the Pioneers prevented, but the Fordham possession resulted in Marando’s third field goal of the game with 2:05 on the clock.

Of the fourth quarter Fordham defense, Williams commented, “We played very aggressively. We felt we had to get the ball back.”

The importance of the turnovers was commented upon in the post-game press conference. Sacred Heart Coach Mark Nofri said, “We had four turnovers and that’s one of the things that stood out today. The turnovers came back to bite us in the end.” Spence who fumbled twice, but also gained 194 yards on the ground and scored two touchdowns, remarked, “We definitely shot ourselves in the foot.”

Several Fordham offensive players broke school marks with their contributions to Saturday’s victory. Quarterback Nebrich’s 32 complete passes, 413 yards gained in the air and three touchdowns brought him Fordham season records with 316 complete passes, 3,989 yards gained, and 31 touchdown passes. Ajala, with 128 yards gained on seven receptions, broke the Fordham receiving yards mark for a season with 1,516.

These marks and others will rise next Saturday as the Rams move to the second round of the tournament to play Towson (10-2) in Maryland. Coach Joe Moorhead of Fordham described his team’s opportunity, “it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re going to do what we always do every week, prepare to go 1-0.”

Senior running back Calvin Koonce, who gained 152 all-purpose yards on Saturday, spoke about the importance of continuing the season for the seniors, “I don’t want it [the season] to end. This is our last go around.”

Quarterback Nebrich predicted, “As long as we execute to our level, nobody can beat us.”