Football Upends #8 Villanova, 27-24
Photo by Vinny Dusovic
BRONX, NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 9- The Fordham Rams knocked off first ever top ten NCAA FCS team.
Following the game with Villanova, Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead was asked if this was the biggest win in his career as a head coach. Perhaps the better question would have been if this is the biggest win in the history of Fordham football on the NCAA FCS level as the Rams defeated a top ten team for the first time at home, upending the Wildcats, 27-24, on Jack Coffey Field.
Perhaps the only other NCAA FCS game that would rival the victory would be the Rams’ 29-24 win over Northeastern in the 2002 NCAA FCS (it was known as I-AA back then) playoffs. The Huskies finished the season ranked 11th in the nation while the Rams were 12th. Fordham fell to Villanova in the second round of the 2002 playoffs.
Fordham picked an improbable opponent for their first home win over an NCAA FCS top ten team as the Rams had not defeated Villanova since 1920, a stretch of 13 straight losses for Fordham to Villanova.
“Before the game we talked about this being a defining moment for our program and to not let the moment define us,” said Moorhead. “I challenged them to beat a top ten school and to legitimize ourselves as a playoff contender and compete for a national championship. I think the team did an unbelievable job and accomplished both counts. It was a tremendous effort from the players and coaches and a total team win.”
The total team effort included an offensive unit that converted on 12 of 19 third downs tries, led by junior quarterback Mike Nebrich who rushed for more than 100 yards and two scores, and a defensive and special teams component that forced five fumbles on the night.
Nebrich, just the second quarterback in school history to rush for more than 100 yards in a game, gained 102 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns and he completed 26 of 35 passes for 190 yards. It was his second career 100-yard game as a Ram, the first coming last year at Villanova when he rushed for 107 yards.
The defense allowed just three second half points, forcing three of the five fumbles in the half, and allowed the Wildcats to convert on just three of their nine third down attempts in the game.
Leading 21-17 at the break, Villanova took the second half kickoff and moved to the Fordham 13 where Stephen Hodge was able to knock down a John Robertson pass on third and one as the Wildcats settled for a 31-yard Mark Hamilton field goal.
Jorge Solano returned the ensuing kickoff 69 yards to give the Rams the ball on the Villanova 30. A Nebrich rush on first down gained 21 yards to put the ball on the nine but the Rams could get no closer to the end zone and Michael Marando came on to boot a 25-yard field goal, his second of the game, to make it a four-point game again, 24-20, with 9:21 left in the third.
The game would remain 24-20 until Fordham took over on its own four with 2:50 left in the third following a punt. Carlton Koonce picked up 27 yards on second down that brought the ball to the Fordham 31 and two plays later facing a third and five from the 36, Nebrich started to run but pulled up just short of the line of scrimmage and looped a pass that tight end Dan Light made a one-handed grab for the first down.
The possession continued into the fourth quarter when the Rams faced another third down situation on the Villanova 38 but Nebrich connected with Tebucky Jones for a 10-yard completion and a Fordham first down. Three plays later, the Rams again faced a third down call and Nebrich got the first down with his feet with a ten-yard carry down to the Wildcats’ eleven. Three plays later, Nebrich took it in from the four to put the Rams up for good, 27-24, with 10:44 remaining.
The Rams forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff when Lourenzo hit Villanova returner Jamal Abdur-Rahman on the Villanova 27 and the ball was recovered by Jordan Chapman for the Rams.
Unfortunately, Fordham could not take advantage of the turnover, losing 10 yards on three plays, and were forced to punt the ball back to the Wildcats.
Villanova took over on its own nine after the punt and got the ball to the 29 where Robertson connected with Poppy Livers over the middle for a15-yard gain but Fordham’s Levon Williams’ hit on Livers caused him to fumble with Victor DiFusco jumping on the ball for Fordham.
Again the Rams could not capitalize on the miscue and punted the ball back to the Wildcats with 3:20 left. On the third play from scrimmage, Abdur-Rahman took a handoff in the backfield and was immediately hit by DiFusco with the ball coming loose and Hodge falling on the pigskin on the Villanova 29 with 2:11 left and the Rams were able to run out the clock for the win.
The Rams got on the board first, taking the opening kickoff and covering 79 plays on 12 plays with Nebrich covering the final nine for a 7-0 Fordham lead five minutes into the game.
The Wildcats took advantage of a Fordham turnover to score later in the quarter as the Rams attempted a trick play with wide receiver Sam Ajala fielding the ball on a hop in the backfield and trying to throw downfield but his pass was picked off by Cameron McCurry, giving Villanova the ball on the Fordham 40.
Villanova took eight plays to cover the 40 yards with Robertson running the ball into the end zone from the five to knot the game at seven with 2:50 on the clock.
On the final play for the first quarter, Fordham’s Brett Biestek got to Robertson unblocked and sacked the Villanova signal caller, causing him to fumble and the ball was recovered by Nick Merino on the Villanova 34. Six plays later, Koonce followed a hole up the middle from the four to give the Rams a 14-7 lead two minutes in to the second quarter.
But the lead would be short-lived as Abdur-Rahman returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards to the Fordham 37 and, on the third play from scrimmage, Robertson snuck the ball in from the one to tie the game at 14 with 11:42 left in the half.
On Fordham’s next possession the Rams were moving the ball, facing a first and 10 from their own 45 when Nebrich found Solano open in the flats but the ball bounced off Solano’s hands right to Villanova’s Jerry Miles who returned it 46 yards for a touchdown.
The Rams responded with a 12-play, 65-yard drive the stalled on the Villanova 24 where Marando connected on a 34-yard field goal to cut the Fordham deficit to four, 21-17, with 3:53 remaining.
The Wildcats threatened before the break, moving to the Fordham two but on the final play of the half, DiFusco sacked Robertson causing him to fumble and the ball was picked up by the Rams’ Alex Washington as time expired.
Jones led all receivers in the game with nine catches for 56 yards while Ajala hauled in seven for 68 yards and Light had six for 47 yards. Koonce gained 83 yards on 22 carries with one score.
Defensively, Hodge and Levon Williams led the Rams with nine tackles each, six solo, with Hodge recording a sack and a fumble recovery and Williams forcing a fumble.
The Rams return to action next Saturday, September 14, as they travel to Philadelphia to face the Temple University Owls on Lincoln Financial Field at 1:00 p.m. in a game that will be broadcast live on ESPN3.