Joe Conlin Gets First Career Win at Fordham

Naim Mayfield rushed for two touchdowns on Saturday, and the freshman's contributions sparked Fordham in its first win of the season. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Naim Mayfield rushed for two touchdowns on Saturday, and the freshman's contributions sparked Fordham in its first win of the season. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

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Naim Mayfield rushed for two touchdowns on Saturday, and the freshman’s contributions sparked Fordham in its first win of the season. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

By Jimmy Sullivan

Fordham Football has its first win of the season, and head coach Joe Conlin has the first win of his coaching career. The head coach told WFUV that the win “feels pretty special,” and it does, both for him and Fordham.

The Rams defeated Lehigh University by a stunning score of 43-14 to win their first game of the season. Junior Tyriek Hopkins rushed for 117 yards, and freshman running back Naim Mayfield added 89 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Rams had several scintillating performances on the day.

Freshman quarterback Tim DeMorat easily had his best game of the season. The Merritt Island, Florida native completed 14 passes on 23 attempts for 299 yards for two touchdowns, which went for a combined 160 yards. The tone for the day was set when he hit senior wideout Austin Longi for a 45-yard bomb into double coverage on the first play of the game. The Rams ended that drive by missing a field goal, but it was clear that Fordham’s passing offense was set on making big plays downfield, which it has sorely lacked to this point in the season.

The game started with a painful sequence of turnovers and punts that does not need to be rehashed Fordham did not score in the first quarter for the sixth straight game to start the season, which continued a troubling trend. The Rams struck the first blow offensively in the second quarter when DeMorat hit senior Jonathan Lumley on a short pass over the middle. Lumley then took care of the rest, as he rumbled 73 yards downfield for the first points of the game. It was only the fourth catch of the season for Lumley, who had a frustrating start to the year leading up to Saturday’s game. Then, because this is the Patriot League and one does not simply kick extra points in the Patriot League, the Rams brought their kicking unit onto the field and got a two-point conversion on a trick play. Fourth-string quarterback Sean Holland fired a screen pass to tight end Jack Gildea, who followed a convoy into the end zone for two points. The score was 8-0 Fordham.

The wide receiving unit had its best game of the season, and two men stood out in particular. Seniors Austin Longi and Corey Caddle both went for over 100 yards on the afternoon. Longi caught five balls from DeMorat for 108 yards, including the first play of the night. In the second quarter, he hauled in a 40-yard strike that got Fordham down to the Lehigh one-yard-line; the play was initially ruled a touchdown but was brought back to the one-yard-line upon further review. However, Mayfield scored the first of his two touchdowns on the next play, and no harm was done for the Rams.

Caddle only made three catches, but he made the most of them. His biggest play of the game came in the third quarter when he took a DeMorat pass for 87 yards and a score. It was the second monster touchdown of the day for the Rams, and it was also the longest touchdown for Fordham since 2015.

Fordham took a 22-6 lead into the locker room behind touchdowns from Lumley, Mayfield and a rushing score from DeMorat. Joe Conlin tried to get him more involved in the running game throughout the contest, and it seemed to pay off. DeMorat’s rushing TD came at the end of an especially impressive drive at the end of the first half, as the Rams held possession for 4:10 before scoring with just 16 seconds left on the clock. The freshman quarterback looked poised, and his head coach noticed.

“Timmy played his heart out,” Conlin told WFUV. “It was great to see him kind of take command, and he was a different kid on the sideline this week than he was last week. We felt good about the gameplan and his role in it.”

Lehigh was expected to make adjustments out of the halftime locker room. The defending Patriot League co-champions were on the ropes and needed a response to get off the mat against the winless Rams. The Mountain Hawks were even booed going into the locker room, which was an unusual response from the fans of a team that has won at least a share of the last two Patriot League titles.

They didn’t have one in them.

Lehigh quarterback Brad Mayes, a first-team all-Patriot League selection in 2017, led the Mountain Hawks down the field late in the third quarter. On a third-down play to the end zone, he was intercepted by Fordham junior Jesse Bramble. The next Fordham drive ended with Caddle’s long touchdown, and after the 14-point swing, Fordham led 29-6.

The Rams were set after that; they added fourth-quarter touchdown runs from Hopkins and Mayfield for good measure. Lehigh scored a meaningless touchdown and two-point conversion with just under 12 minutes to play, but the Rams had salted away the victory long before that. With the win, Joe Conlin finally gets off the schneid as the head man at Fordham, and the Rams are in the win column for the first time since November 18, 2017.

What was particularly impressive on this afternoon was Fordham’s running game. It wasn’t just that Mayfield and Hopkins were prolific, but it was the manner in which they were. Hopkins hit the hole with an exceptional burst on Saturday, and his late touchdown run was the best proof of that. Mayfield was hardly ever taken down on first contact, and he often kept the pile moving for extra yards when it appeared as though the play was dead. Last year, it was D’Angelo Palladino rushing for 299 yards in the absence of Chase Edmonds. This year, it was Mayfield and Hopkins combining for 206 yards in the absence of Palladino, sophomore Zach Davis and senior Colton Smith. Fordham’s reinforcements have burned Lehigh in back-to-back seasons, and the Rams put up nearly 200 net rushing yards after having averaged just 24 yards per game in their first five contests.

One of the other standouts for Fordham was still in high school last year. DeMorat continues to improve, and if there were any questions about Fordham’s quarterback situation, the freshman answered them on Saturday. Joe Conlin is not taking his quarterback’s performance for granted.

“He’s still a freshman, and next week, God only knows, that’s how it is with freshmen, but today, he played like a grown man.”
“God only knows” is an accurate forecast for this Fordham team. After coming into Bethlehem as double-digit underdogs, they left as 29-point victors.

God only knows what will happen when Fordham hosts Bryant on Saturday. But this week, the Rams are winners. It’s the first time the team has been able to say that in 2018, and it’s the first time Joe Conlin has ever been able to say that as a head coach.