Football Loses Heartbreaker to Bryant, Now 1-6

Football Loses Heartbreaker to Bryant, Now 1-6

Tyriek Hopkins had 176 yards and one touchdown against Bryant (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

By Jack McLoone

A game that seemed over just eight minutes in ended up being a shootout with 83 total points scored between the two teams, Fordham and Bryant. Despite dominating the opening minutes, Bryant needed a late, heart-stopping drive and an unlikely field goal to pull out the 42-41 win. Fordham drops to 1-6 with the loss, while Bryant improves to 5-2.

“I didn’t have them, obviously, prepared out of the gate,” said Rams head coach Joe Conlin of the team’s slow start. “We’ve got to do a better job with our preparation and getting these guys amped up out of the locker room and ready to fight. I take that; that’s obviously my fault.”

The Rams’ lack of readiness was apparent on Bryant’s first drive, with the defense allowing the Bulldogs to score in just four plays. The Bulldogs were up 7-0, and a full minute had yet to elapse.

After a three-and-out by Fordham on the Rams’ first drive, Bryant went to the ground. The Bulldogs picked up all 59 of their yards on the ground, including the 25-yard scoring run by Brenden Femiano. Just four minutes in, Bryant was on top 14-0.

Bulldog rushers gained 248 net rushing yards on the day.

The Rams finally showed one single sign of life in their second drive: a rush up the middle then to the outside from junior Tyriek Hopkins for 47 yards, which put them on the Bryant 17. But after a short rush and two incomplete passes, the Rams had to settle for a 32-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Andrew Mevis. It was the Rams’ first points in the first quarter this season.

“I’ve got to do a better job of calling plays early, stop feeling them out and start trying to push the thing down the field,” he said. “When it all comes down to it, it starts at the top. Head guy’s got to be better.”

Back-to-back over 30 yard rushes from Alfred Dorbor, the second a touchdown, on Bryant’s next possession put the team up 21-3 with 7:06 left in the first quarter. It seemed over.

The Rams’ comeback started slowly, with the defense forcing a punt and getting a turnover on downs but only the offense getting one field goal in the interim to cut it to 21-6 with 9:08 left in the half.

After the defense stonewalled Bryant yet again, the Rams finally found the end zone on a 51-yard pass from freshman quarterback Tim DeMorat to senior receiver Austin Longi. The Rams were closing the gap, down 21-13 with 6:16 left in the half.

After another Bryant punt, the offense looked in sync, turning a dink-and-dunk drive into a touchdown right at the end of the half when senior tight end Isaiah Searight caught a short pass and ran to the pylon. That made it 21-19 before the extra point.

“[Washington State head coach] Mike Leach might tell me I’m wrong, but you don’t go for two until you need to go for two,” said Conlin of the decision to kick the point instead of going for the potential tie on the two-point conversion. While a lot of scoring happened afterward, that one point loomed large at the end of the game.

The Rams started the second half with an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a 14-yard touchdown rush from Hopkins.

Bryant woke back up and responded in kind, capping off its next drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Nisivoccia. A blocked PAT kept the score tied at 27 with 7:28 left in the third.

After uninspiring play-calling led to a Rams turnover on downs on the Bryant 24, senior linebacker Noah Fitzgerald snagged an interception to put the Rams back on the Bryant eight. On the next play, DeMorat hit Longi on a pop pass over the middle for a score and the 34-27 lead with 3:56 left in the third.

Bryant once again came back and scored, but another muffed PAT, this time on a bad snap, preserved Fordham’s one-point lead, 34-33, with seven seconds left in the quarter.

After recovering a surprise onside kick, Fordham was in the end zone 10 plays later. The Rams were now up eight, 41-33, with 10:42 left to play.
After the two defenses combined to hold the opposing offenses to -5 yards and two punts, sophomore defensive lineman Anthony Diodato bailed out Bryant.

Starting on their own one-yard line following a 69-yard punt from Mevis, it looked like the Rams’ defense had bottled up the Bulldogs once again. The Bulldogs were facing a fourth and three on their own 19 with 4:45 left. Despite the entire sideline yelling at the defense to only watch the ball and not react to Wilson’s hard count, Diodato was drawn offsides, extending the drive. It was the second time it happened to him in the game.

“We can’t make the mistakes we did in the second half,” said Conlin. He mentioned a holding call—senior receiver Jonathan Lumley was called for holding twice—but one has to imagine Diodato’s costly mistakes were also on his mind.

Bryant drove down the field, attacking the Rams’ soft zone coverage and eventually scoring to get within two points with just 1:50 left to play.
Now down two—thanks to those missed extra points—with just 1:50 left to play, Bryant was in that “have to go for two” situation Conlin mentioned, but failed to convert on a wild play that was tipped and caught, but outside the end zone.

Despite recovering the ensuing onside kick, the Rams failed to do much to run out the clock. After another great punt from Mevis, Bryant had the ball on its nine, with 84 seconds left and no timeouts.

The Bulldogs were able to dink and dunk their way down the field. Not counting the spike or game-winning field goal, the Bulldogs were able to run eight plays in that time—none going for longer than 11 yards—picking up five first downs, each stopping the clock along the way.

Sophomore kicker Luke Samperi, who had yet to even attempt a field goal in his short career and already struggled with two PATs on the day, was the hero, drilling a 42-yard field goal to win it and erase Fordham’s comeback.

The Rams will return to conference play next week when they take on Lafayette at home at 1 p.m. Despite having just one win (over conference-mate Lehigh), the Rams have an outside shot at winning the Patriot League if they start a winning streak next week.