Rams start 7-0 and earn more national respect each week
There was a different vibe in week six at Jack Coffey Field than there was in week two. Week two felt like old Fordham football, a team hoping to compete and play Villanova close. A month later, we could tell Fordham football was entering a new era.
No one knew what to expect when Fordham met with the Wildcats in early September. For all the good Joe Moorhead’s team did in the first season – the explosive offense, blitz happy defense, nationally renowned special teams – it ended without a marquee win. Fordham won six games in 2012, but not a single victory came against an opponent who finished at or above .500. Those six wins were great for program building, but they aren’t going to put you in the final 24 teams fighting for a national championship.
The culture of winning existed where it hadn’t since 2007, but the next step would be even more difficult. The first step of building the program was completed with that 6-5 record. Fordham was suddenly beating the teams it should if it wanted to be a winning program. The next step, then, is beating the teams that outsiders think it shouldn’t.
Rhode Island was a tougher opponent than Fordham’s first opponent in 2012, Lock Haven. But the results were similar. This was painted as an early win by most prognosticators, and the Rams didn’t disappoint.
Enter Villanova. Players who spent much of the previous season rehabbing injuries, Michael Nebrich and Victor DiFusco, played inspired football. The Rams’ defense and special teams forced three fumbles in the fourth quarter. The effort was superb, and the result extraordinary. For the first time, the Rams defeated a top ten FCS opponent on Jack Coffey Field.
Interestingly, DiFusco had turned down an offer from Villanova coming out of Mahopac, telling MSG Varsity at the time, “Obviously the football for Villanova is a bit ahead of Fordham, but Fordham will be able to compete football-wise [because of the full scholarships].” He was exactly right, and now he’s part of the turnaround he signed up for.
Villanova would beat top-five Towson a month later, and the Rams had their first marquee win of the Moorhead era.
Yet after the win, Fordham didn’t move above the Wildcats in the rankings. The win was written off by many as a fluke. “It was the product of an overhyped CAA team, travelling to an upstart but still weak Patriot League team with a lucky defense and an unknown transfer quarterback on their own turf with a lucky defense, blah, blah, blah…“
Fast forward a week later. Fordham is playing at Lincoln Financial Field against FBS Temple. Regardless of what you might think about Temple’s chances in FBS this season (they aren’t good), they have 20 more scholarship players, better facilities (they even have a second side of stands!), and more recruiting gravitas. Fordham had already put a scare into Temple’s conference rival Cincinnati on the road a year prior, but fell short in the second half. Fordham didn’t run out of gas this time.
With mere seconds left on the fourth quarter clock, Michael Nebrich found Sam Ajala (although even he will tell you he saw Brian Wetzel first) in the end zone for a 29 yard heave to lead Fordham to its first win over FBS since the program returned. Can anyone tell me that the Rams would have made that play in 2012? Would I believe you if you did? The swagger of Fordham athletics (which was MIA since being a “Block of Granite” was cool) was back.
No, it’s not a fluke anymore.
By the time the Columbia game rolled around, Fordham fans believed. They packed the bleachers on homecoming weekend. The team rewarded the faithful with an offensive show and a defensive shellacking.
While the team was demolishing the “easy teams” on their schedule and gutting out the games against top competition, it remained to be seen what Fordham would do against another solid team. Saint Francis of the NEC was a perfect measuring stick. Kyle Harbridge was magnificent, but Jorge Solano and Brian Wetzel’s special teams returns were too much. Despite a dog fight in Loretto, Pennsylvania, Fordham pulled away late.
Now media is starting to pay attention. Fordham is nearing the top ten, and they are hosting a Patriot League power on national television. This is where the feeling changed. Fordham wasn’t out to compete. They didn’t care about moral victories. Lehigh is consistently one of the best teams in the conference. To wear the crown, you need to slay the king.
The offense was remarkable: explosive plays with no turnovers. The defense got the holds they needed to keep the Rams in the lead from kickoff to final whistle. The maroon and white pulled away thanks to a muffed punt and an interception. They scored on both of the ensuing possessions, turning mistakes into points and playing turnover-free football: The simplest formula for championship football.
It was the second consecutive sellout at Jack Coffey Field. Tickets were sold out so early that former Yankee Tino Martinez was stuck on the sideline in standing room only. Lehigh’s win over top-ten New Hampshire the previous week only added to the win’s value on the Rams’ postseason resume.
And that brings us to last week. Fordham needed a defensive stand to score a win over Jesuit rival Georgetown a year ago. This season, Michael Nebrich racked up 450 total yards while the defense chased the Hoyas’ fifth year senior starter in the first half. The Rams were off to their best start since the 1930’s.
Fordham is littered with All-American candidates on both sides of the football, including Michael Nebrich, Carlton Koonce, any of the Rams top four leading pass catchers, Mason Halter, Steven Tapia, Ian Williams, Stephen Hodge, DeAndre Slate.
The buzz is growing because Fordham has become a force to be reckoned with. In week two fans were hoping for the best but fearing the worst. Today there is boundless optimism. Hopes of a playoff berth and an unbeaten season remain intact. No outsider in their wildest dreams would have bet on a 7-0 start, but that’s exactly where this team is.
It’s time to take Fordham football seriously.
Mike Watts calls play by play of Fordham football for WFUV.