Football Comeback Falls Short at Lafayette


Fordham Football now fall to 1–2 in the Patriot League standings. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Dylan Balsamo, Assistant Sports Editor

Any fan of Fordham Football, casual or devoted, would agree: just when you thought you were out, they pull you right back in. 

In what was perhaps a season-defining game for the Fordham Rams on Saturday, they went into Lafayette looking for their fourth win and instead left with their sixth loss, dropping an afternoon matchup with the Leopards at Fisher Field in Easton, Pennsylvania by the ultimately close score of 34-31. The Rams fell to 3-6 on the year, including a 1-2 record in the Patriot League, while Lafayette improved to 2-7, with their 2-1 Patriot League record putting them ahead of the Rams in the conference standings.

It was one of four Rams’ game in 2019 that ended up being decided by a margin of four points or less, with three of those games ending up on the right hand side of the Fordham record. The fourth quarter looked to be what could be defined as a comeback for Fordham. An incredible and improbable comeback, perhaps even season and momentum-shifting. But even when it comes to comebacks, it’s how you finish.

Getting started immediately after winning possession of the opening kickoff, the Leopards took 12 plays to get their kicker Jeffrey Kordenbrock to nail a 31-yard field goal and get Lafayette a 3-0 lead before the Rams could even touch the ball.

On the kickoff return following the 31-yarder, Fordham’s freshman receiver Dan Byrnes fumbled the ball after carrying it 15-yards, and Lafayette recovered it to take back possession. Rams’ sophomore quarterback Tim Demorat and his offense were yet to set foot on the gridiron, and the Leopards were well on their way to getting back on the board. In a little over 90 seconds, Lafayette ran five plays and put running back Selwyn Simpson in the end zone on a 14-yard run for a touchdown. The first quarter was less than halfway done. It was 10-0 Leopards.

Fordham took a three and out possession in their offense’s first time on the field before the defense came back on and allowed one more touchdown before the opening 15 came to a close, as Lafayette receiver Julius Young caught a 10-yard pass from his quarterback Keegan Shoemaker and made the score 17-0. 

The Rams had to come speeding out of the gates on their next drive if they wanted to give themselves a fighting chance in the rest of the game, and they did. As the first ended and the second began, Fordham finished up 68-yard drive with a 10-yard run from junior rusher Zach Davis and put the Rams back in the conversation by making the score 17-7. Going back and forth for the remainder of the quarter, the Leopards were able to secure one more score before halftime approached, as receiver Jordan Hull took in a 6-yard pass from Shoemaker with 33 seconds on the clock, bringing the score to 24-7 Lafayette before the Rams and leopards would take their trips to their respective locker rooms.

Needless to say (or write), things were looking bleak during halftime for Fordham.

As the break came to and end, however, and the squads came out to begin the third quarter, things seemed to be looking a little better for the Rams. Their third quarter can be considered and put them in position to leap back into the game. 

Having first licks at the ball in the second half, they opened up with a 67-yard drive that resulted in an 18-yard field goal kick from junior kicker Andrew Mevis, and the Rams put themselves back in striking distance down by 2 TD’s. After holding the Leopards on their next drive, Fordham allowed another Lafayette touchdown with a little over five minutes to play in the third, bringing the difference back to 21 points. Four minutes later, the Rams were able to round out the quarter with another touchdown, this one being a pass from DeMorat to freshman receiver Dequece Carter for 17 yards, meaning Fordham trailed by two touchdowns with 15 minutes to play.

That is when things got interesting.

The Rams exploded in the fourth in a most improbable of fashions. 

Less than a minute into the quarter, Fordham finished up a march downfield of 61 yards in only three plays, as junior receiver Hamze El-Zayat caught a six-yarder of the end zone. It was another touchdown pass on the afternoon for DeMorat, and it put the Rams within a scoring play.

After forcing the Leopards to punt, the Rams got the ball back, and on that very next possession, they tied the game. DeMorat threw another one, this one to freshman tight end Jeff Ciccio from 15 yards out, completing another successful drive of at least 50 yards. This one only took six plays to get the job done.

They at one point trailed by 21. Now, Fordham was in the middle of a tied game in the fourth quarter.

And then, the improbable and unpredictable continued. At the Lafayette 27, Shoemaker threw a pass that was picked off by fifth-year defensive back James Biggs-Frazier who returned it for five yards. The Rams had the ball back.

They needed just three plays before Mevis was in position to send a 42-yarder through the uprights to make the score 34-31 in favor of Fordham.

If you had looked away for a little while, you would have thought the Rams’ chances at a third win on Saturday were well over. Now they had the lead with 3:36 left on the game clock.

But it’s when you’ve been pulled back in that teams can break your heart again.

Upon getting the ball back, Lafayette moved the ball 75 yards and grabbed a go-ahead and ultimately game-deciding touchdown when Simpson ended a 10 yard run in the Fordham end zone.

With 1:48 left to get the ball back and score, the Rams did not have enough time. The Leopards walked off of the gridiron with a 38-34 victory in hand.

Despite a comeback of incredible stature, giving a seven-loss team its second win of the year when the road ahead only gets tougher is not a result than Fordham can walk away from happily.

“We didn’t play very good football today,” is what Rams head coach Joe Conlin had to say about the loss. “I liked the way we fought back but we created our own problems with a slow first half. We need to come out with more energy and play a complete game.”

Obviously, these remarks do not come out of nowhere. Playing a full and consistent game has been Fordham Football’s Achille’s Heal all season, and the squad totalling just one good half of a football game has not been uncommon in 2019.

But despite that, there were of course bright spots for the Rams in a game where they put up 34 points. The team had a total of 383 offensive yards, and DeMorat made 23 completions 315 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

“[He] stood tall and made some good throws,” Conlin remarked on his quarterback. “He was able to keep some plays alive with his feet and get us back in the game but we couldn’t stop them at the end.”

But when it was all said and done, the Leopards just hit over 500 yards in total offensively. Not to mention that the defense held Fordham’s sophomore running back Zach Davis, who has made 100-yard games a regular occurrence this season, was held to just 34 yards on the ground on Saturday afternoon.

This was a game Fordham had to win. And it didn’t.

Up next for the Rams: a meeting with the Colgate University Raiders in Hamilton, New York at Andy Kerr Stadium at 1:00 on November 9. After that game comes Holy Cross and Bucknell to close out 2019. 

If Fordham wants to squeeze out wins in these final three games, it’s going to be a difficult road.