Football Suffers Tough Loss to Open Season

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Football Suffers Tough Loss to Open Season

Hamze El-Zayat's two touchdowns weren't enough to lead Fordham to a win on Saturday (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics).

Hamze El-Zayat's two touchdowns weren't enough to lead Fordham to a win on Saturday (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics).

Hamze El-Zayat's two touchdowns weren't enough to lead Fordham to a win on Saturday (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics).

Hamze El-Zayat's two touchdowns weren't enough to lead Fordham to a win on Saturday (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics).

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By Dylan Balsamo

Finding relevance in the FCS is tough enough. Fordham has not seen the playoffs in four seasons, and last year, they went 2–9 and were the worst rushing team in the country. So, these growing pains can be, as head coach Joe Conlin might say, “tough.”

That is the word that seemed to stick out in his post-game press conference, talking about Saturday’s last-second 26-23 loss against Central Connecticut State (CCSU) at home to open the season. The Rams are now 10-21 in opening games since they joined the FCS in 1989. This is also the second straight year that CCSU has come into the Bronx and beaten Fordham.

The Fordham football program is growing. The current squad is a combination of standouts from last season and talented players who missed significant time due to injury, and the coach has now had a year at the helm of the team under his belt. All of that goes without mentioning its three Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoff appearances from 2013-15 and that, since 2012, the Rams’ 52 wins are the most of any New York area football team (including the Giants and Jets).

However, as is the case with any team that is going through a growing period, there are inevitable growing pains. The Rams tried to put those behind them on Saturday.

After a Rams kickoff, the Blue Devils came right out of the gate in its first possession, scoring three and a half minutes in off of a 34-yard run by Huston Kenyata for the first six points. Then, the team succeeded on the two-point conversion attempt to show Fordham that they meant business. CCSU cared about every point.

The score remained 8-0 for the rest of the opening 15 minutes. In the second quarter, the Rams put themselves on the board in a quick drive, as sophomore quarterback Tim DeMorat completed a short eight-yard pass to Hamze El-Zayat (one of his two touchdowns on the night). It was on the point-after, though, that Fordham tried a two-point conversion themselves and a strong CCSU defense caused a comedy of fumbles from both sides that kept the Rams from any extra points. This would be the first of a couple of high-risk decisions made by Conlin that he would probably want back.

With under five minutes to go in the half, the Blue Devils marched down the field for an 82-yard drive that ended in a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tyshaun James. This time, CCSU took the kick for the extra point, and Fordham entered halftime trailing 15-6.

The Rams proved themselves to be a team in early-season form in the first half. DeMorat, who was given the starting spot for the beginning of this campaign, presided over an offense that only had 182 total yards, only had 10:47 of possession time and only went one for five on third down conversions. What makes this a little less alarming, though, is that the offensive line for Fordham was mostly freshmen. And knowing that, Conlin said, “I thought we held up pretty well in protection. I thought those boys held up pretty well.”

While there were standouts in the half like Zach Davis–who ran for 81 yards in the first two quarters – Fordham’s biggest weakness during this time was the defensive line. They allowed 213 rushing yards in the half and a handful of 30+ yard rushing plays. CCSU’s quarterback Aaron Winchester even had 100 rushing yards before the half was over.

The Rams needed to double down after halftime. They did just that.

On its opening possession of the third quarter, Fordham finished off a 67-yard drive with a field goal from Andrew Melvis and made it a six-point affair. The Rams’ defensive side of the ball then proceeded to hold off CCSU for the entire third quarter, and linebacker Jaden Vazquez even recorded a 10-yard sack on Winchester.

With 2:26 to play in the quarter, Fordham struck again, as El-Zayat nabbed his second TD catch from DeMorat to even the score. Melvin’s extra point kick gave Fordham its first lead of the game and the season.

Then we arrived at the fourth quarter.

Fifty-one seconds in, the Rams were driving at their own 32-yard line when a third-and-17 pass by DeMorat was intercepted by Dexter Lawson and returned 48 for a touchdown that put CCSU back on top. The Blue Devils even went for two points again –– and they got them. That put the score at 23-16.

Both teams then had their turns with possession, but the Blue Devils’ first attempt in the game at a field goal with about five minutes to play was blocked, and Fordham took the ball 57 yards to score another touchdown –– this one coming from a 13-yard pass Dequece Carter –– and the game was tied at 23.

With 1:53 to play, CCSU took back the ball, and with 11 seconds left, they found themselves at Fordham’s 14-yard line attempting a 35-yard field goal. The Blue Devils had one timeout left. The Rams had two.

CCSU used its timeout and ran the clock down to one second, guaranteeing this play would be the last of the game. Fordham used its first timeout before CCSU kicker Francis Cole could attempt the kick. Then, Fordham called and got its second timeout when the kick was about to be made, and Cole missed the kick.

Now the timeouts were done, and Cole attempted the kick. And he made it. Game over.

A “tough” game to lose indeed.

“Credit the kid for making the kick under big pressure,” Conlin said. “I iced him twice. I wish I hadn’t.”

This loss was clearly no blowout, as Fordham fans have seen a handful of recently. It was a loss that displayed the talent of a young team in a game that the Rams, starting out their season, were able to grow into. It felt like just the kind of loss that a team going through growing pains would inevitably go through.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Conlin went on to say, being very quick to remember the positives of the game for Fordham and see the lower points simple adjustments that can and will be made. “I was pleasantly surprised with the boys’ resilience.”

The Rams will travel next week to face a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent in Ball State, the first of three straight games on the road. Conlin can only hope that resilience displayed today translates into success away from the Bronx.