Football Wins Family Weekend Thriller Against Lehigh

While it was not pretty for three quarters, the Fordham offense exploded in the fourth as the defense forced stops when it mattered to lead the Rams to a 35–28 win over Lehigh, their fifth consecutive, in front of a packed Jack Coffey crowd.

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The Rams have a much-needed bye week after eight consecutive games to start the season. (Jessica Noce/The Fordham Ram)

Dylan Balsamo, Managing Editor

On the surface, everything seemed right about Fordham Football’s late 35–28 victory against Lehigh University in front of a sell-out home crowd at Jack Coffey Field on Family Weekend. The team scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, senior quarterback Tim DeMorat had another outstanding day statistically and a whole crowd of Fordham students and their families got to watch a program sitting atop the Patriot League win another home conference matchup and build on the momentum that has come during their three-game homestand.

That’s one way of looking at things. The other way of seeing Saturday is that the Rams, a team that was favored by 33.5 points against an 0–6 Mountain Hawks squad, needed three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, 401 yards on the afternoon from DeMorat and the energy of the crowd to pull out a last-minute win and snatch themselves from the jaws of defeat in a game that was theirs to lose. The Rams also only held possession of the ball for 21 of 60 minutes in the game.

In the postgame press conference following the campus-wide grandiose of a Fordham victory, head coach Joe Conlin made it sound like the team is viewing the game from the latter perspective.

“For 50 some odd minutes, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Fordham football team,” Conlin said, giving a sense of earnest self-reflection that has become a signature of his. “But, obviously, for the last eight minutes of the game, I thought we were pretty fantastic.” 

Those eight minutes, despite being a very small fraction of the total game, displayed the Rams at their absolute best, from DeMorat leading three domineering touchdown drives to the defense making the big tackles when the chips were down.

The win brings the Rams to 5–3 in total on the season and more importantly, an undefeated 3–0 in conference play. This is Fordham’s fifth-straight victory for the first time since 2015, and its 3–0 start in the Patriot League is the best since 2016 when the Rams went 5–1 in the conference.

For DeMorat, his career-high 401 yards thrown Saturday afternoon came from 24 of 40 completions. He also rushed for at least 16 yards on three occasions during the game and brought the ball into the end zone himself twice. It is also just the 18th time in Fordham history that a quarterback has thrown for over 400 yards.

DeMorat continues to star in Fordham’s offense, and now he’s climbing the school’s record books too. (Jessica Noce/The Fordham Ram)

Over the course of his team’s five-game win streak, DeMorat has gone 111–169 in passing, good for 1,643 yards and 18 touchdowns. He now sits second in school history in career completions with 644, surpassing Mike Nebrich on Saturday. He also moved to third in passing yards, besting Kevin Anderson, and remained third in touchdown passes.

Unsurprisingly, DeMorat was named Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week again. All of these incredible statistics and the pomp that begins to surround DeMorat’s illustrious Fordham career just make it all the more sobering to hear him say to Conlin during the postgame that throwing for 401 yards on Saturday was “not fun.”

“It’s always just about getting the win,” DeMorat remarked when discussing balancing his own success with those of the team as a whole. “Stats are always nice, but that’s not really something I’m worried about.”

Ten of DeMorat’s 24 passes went to senior wide receiver Fotis Kokosoulis, with both that number and his 157 total yards being career-highs for him as well. Alongside Kokosoulis were junior receivers Dequece Carter, who had 97 yards on five catches and Garrett Cody, who turned three catches into 111 yards and a touchdown.

On the other side of the ball, the Fordham defense recovered nicely from the two touchdowns allowed in the first quarter. Freshman linebacker James Conway continued his incredible rookie season for the Rams by having his best statistical game yet: 21 total tackles, nine solo, and two forced fumbles. He received Defensive Player of the Week honors in the Patriot League again. Right alongside him was senior defensive back Jesse Bramble, who made eight of his 11 total tackles solo, forced a fumble and broke up a pass.

The game came down to the fourth quarter despite these standout performances. Down 28–14 near the top of the fourth quarter, Fordham scored its first of three unanswered touchdowns on a DeMorat run into the end zone from the Lehigh eleven-yard line. That made it a seven-point game.

The Mountain Hawks found themselves near the end zone on the following drive, looking to reclaim control of the game. However, Conway recorded his second forced fumble of the game and senior defensive lineman Gavin Watson recovered it at Fordham’s 15 yard line.

Thirteen plays and 85 yards later, DeMorat led the Rams past the goal line again, throwing an 11-yard pass to senior tight end Jack Lynch and tying the game at 28 apiece with under four minutes to play. The touchdown was just the fourth of Lynch’s career on seven receptions.

The next series for Lehigh saw them go three-and-out, getting the ball back to the Rams quickly. After a 55-yard drive, DeMorat faked a handoff to junior running back Trey Wilson III, then brought it in himself for a two-yard touchdown run that gave Fordham an emphatic 35–28 lead with 1:45 to play. Now all they had to do was hold down the Mountain Hawks one more time.

Lehigh had the ball at the Fordham 22-yard line with just over a minute to go before Bramble forced a fumble to give the ball back to the Rams, who held onto it for another minute before officially claiming victory.

Fordham fans had reason to stay at Jack Coffey Field until the end on Family Weekend, even if undesirably so. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

It may not have been the game or finish that Fordham was expecting, but it was certainly an exciting one.

Conlin was very upfront in stating how he felt his team might have mentally approached this game from the wrong angle.

“I think we made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “I think we came out with kind of a lack of energy like maybe we thought the game was a foregone conclusion. Lehigh played a great game, and they certainly attacked us in a very good way.”

No matter the circumstances, the fact of the matter is Fordham pulled out a win on Saturday against a conference opponent and will go into their bye week at 3–0 and in sole possession of first place in the Patriot League. In second place at 2–0 is the Crusaders of the College of the Holy Cross, who will be in Lehigh this coming weekend.

But for now, that spot belongs to the Rams, who get a break after playing eight consecutive weeks of football. They return to action on Nov. 6 in a road game against Georgetown University at Cooper Field in Washington, D.C. After that, they will host the Crusaders in their home finale and finish off the 2021 regular season at Colgate University.

The end of football season is around the corner. It is not yet clear what the future will entail for the Rams, but for now, they just keep winning.