Rams Defeat Pioneers 37-27, First Playoff Win Since 2002

Fordham Advances to Face No. 7 Towson in Second Round of FCS Playoffs

By DAN GARTLAND

EXECUTIVE SPORTS EDITOR

The Rams defense made several crucial stops in the second half to stop the Pioneer offense and hold on to the lead. (Photo by Michael Rezin/The Ram )

The Rams defense made several crucial stops in the second half to stop the Pioneer offense and hold on to the lead. (Photo by Michael Rezin/The Ram )

Seven teams have come to the Bronx to face the Fordham Rams this fall. All seven have lost. All seven have said something similar to what Sacred Heart head coach Mark Nofri said after his Pioneers fell at Jack Coffey Field on Saturday afternoon: “Obviously we ran into a great football team.”

Sacred Heart played Fordham tight. The Rams only led by four at the beginning of the fourth quarter. After racking up 349 yards and 31 points in the first half, the Fordham offense was held in check in the second half and scored only six points, allowing Sacred Heart to get back into the game. The Pioneers trailed 31-17 at the half, but scored 10 unanswered points in the third quarter while Fordham’s offense sputtered.

But while the offense struggled, the Rams’ defense stood tall against Keshaudas Spence, Sacred Heart’s powerful, talented running back.

Spence carried 25 times and gained 194 yards, 122 of which came on a pair of long runs. For the most part, Fordham’s defense did a good job of bottling up Spence and holding him to minimal gains.

“He’s a big guy, so you have to take him low,” Fordham safety Levon Williams, who was bowled over by Spence on a first-quarter touchdown run, said of the 230-pound back. “As the game went on, we started to get more aggressive, seeing we could play with him. I’m not going to lie, he’s a good player.”

But when Fordham’s offense stalled, its defense refused to let Sacred Heart capitalize.

Michael Nebrich scored four total touchdowns in Saturday’s playoff victory.

Michael Nebrich scored four total touchdowns in Saturday’s playoff victory.

For Fordham, the story was the defense coming up with big plays when it needed to; for Sacred Heart, it was missed opportunities.

Twice in the fourth quarter the Rams intercepted RJ Noel, the Pioneers’ quarterback. On both occasions, the Rams converted the turnovers into field goals.

Late in the third quarter, after a missed Fordham field goal, Spence barreled into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown, cutting Fordham’s lead to 31-27. Fordham’s ensuing offensive series lasted only five plays and ended in a punt, giving the ball right back to the Pioneers. The momentum appeared to be firmly on Sacred Heart’s side, but Fordham’s Jordan Chapman picked off a pass from Noel.

Then, in the fourth quarter, after Fordham turned the ball over on downs, Sacred Heart was still only trailing by a touchdown, but Noel was intercepted again, this time by Williams.

“We definitely could have pulled away with a win today, but we just shot ourselves in the foot,” Spence said.

Fordham advances to take on Towson next Saturday on the road. The seventh-seeded Tigers are 10-2, having lost to Villanova (which Fordham beat earlier this year) and Delaware. They earned an at-large bid out of the Colonial Athletic Association, a conference widely regarded as the toughest in the FCS.

“They’ve been one of the top ten teams in the country over the last two years,” Moorhead said of Towson. “It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re going to do what we do every week: prepare to go 1-0.”

The Tigers are 14th in the FCS in total offense and are led by running back Terrence West, who leads the FCS in rushing yards per game.

As prolific as its offense is, Towson’s defense is equally as strong. For the second week in a row, Fordham will be facing a top-20 defense. The Tigers’ defense is the 20th best in the FCS in terms of yards allowed, but the Rams are not intimidated.

“I think we’ve proved that we’re one of the top offensive units in the country,” Nebrich said. “We’re not going to fear any defense, especially Towson.”