Fordham Football Escapes Lehigh Upset in 35-28 Comeback Victory
Rams score 21 unanswered points in fourth quarter to take down winless Mountain Hawks
The Fordham football team avoided a massive upset against Lehigh University (LU) on Saturday, Oct. 23, overcoming a 28-14 deficit in the fourth quarter to win 35-28. In front of a sellout crowd at Coffey Field on Family Weekend, the Rams trailed throughout the contest but scored three straight touchdowns in the final 13 minutes to defeat the Mountain Hawks, who are now 0-7 in 2021.
After the game, Head Coach Joe Conlin said he was happy with the team’s last-ditch effort despite “a lot of mistakes” throughout the game.
“I think we came out with a lack of energy, like maybe the game was a foregone conclusion,” Conlin said. “Lehigh played a great game … and outcoached us, to be honest. But we found a way to pull it out at the end.”
Based on rudimentary statistics, the game between these two teams was not supposed to be close. In their two previous home games, the Rams outscored their opponents by 94 combined points. Meanwhile, Lehigh was entering off a bye week after six straight defeats.
The losing streak for the Mountain Hawks does not fully capture their ineptitude; as of Oct. 22, no Lehigh player had yet managed to score a touchdown in a 2021 football game. But Oct. 23 was a new day, and on the team’s first possession against Fordham, running back Zaythan Hill, LU ’23, finished a six-play drive with a 28-yard scamper into the end zone.
In Hill’s last game on Oct. 9 against the University of Pennsylvania, he had -6 rushing yards and the team lost 20-0. In two minutes and 18 seconds against Fordham, he had 35 yards and a touchdown, and the Mountain Hawks were ahead 7-0.
Fordham was doing what it was supposed to do, and after the first score came so easily, an avalanche seemed inevitable.
After nearly two months without a touchdown for Lehigh, Fordham fans seemed unconcerned by the apparent fluke. When quarterback Tim DeMorat, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) ’22, found Garrett Cody, FCRH ’23, for a 65-yard touchdown on the Rams’ first offensive play, the cheers were more expectant than ecstatic.
Fordham was doing what it was supposed to do, and after the first score came so easily, an avalanche seemed inevitable. Although they had overwhelmed Wagner and Bucknell after similarly explosive starts, it became increasingly clear that the Mountain Hawks would not be so easily daunted.
On every single completed drive of the half, Lehigh advanced the ball at least 50 yards down the field. In stark contrast to Fordham’s high-octane style, the Mountain Hawks depended on checkdown passes from quarterback Dante Perri, LU ’24, and a strong running game through Hill. It was extremely effective, and Lehigh could have easily won the game if not for multiple crippling errors.
On the Mountain Hawks’ second and fourth drives of the game, they drove deep into Fordham territory to set up easy field goals from 21 and 22 yards, respectively. Kicker Dylan Van Dusen, LU ’23, missed both attempts, losing the confidence of his coaches in the process.
In between the missed kicks, Lehigh managed to score another touchdown in the first quarter on a three-yard pass to take a 14-7 lead. With three minutes remaining in the second, the team had another chance to score at Fordham’s 2-yard line. On fourth-and-one, the Mountain Hawks elected to go for it instead of attempting another field goal. Running back Rashawn Allen, LU ’22, fell short, turning the ball over to the Rams.
After DeMorat’s first throw of the game to Cody, Fordham’s offense completely stalled for most of the first half. But as the second quarter came to a close, the Rams finally capitalized on one of their opponent’s mistakes, driving 97 yards down the field on just six plays and scoring a touchdown on a 17-yard pass from DeMorat to Dequece Carter, FCRH ’22.
Lehigh likely would have been ahead by multiple scores.
The score was tied at 14, but there was no question that Lehigh was outplaying its favored opponent. Though DeMorat was still completing passes, Fordham’s running backs only managed 17 total yards from scrimmage. It was highly improbable that the home team could even manage a tie with 25% possession time, and if not for several costly mistakes, Lehigh likely would have been ahead by multiple scores.
The majority of the second half proceeded like the first, as Fordham’s offense continued to struggle and its defense became increasingly porous. Running back Zach Davis, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences ’22, briefly took over for Trey Wilson III, Gabelli School of Business at Rose Hill (GSBRH) ’23, and proved similarly ineffective in his first appearance since Sept. 4. In the entire third quarter, he managed to rush for two yards on three carries.
While the Mountain Hawks grounded Fordham’s backfield, Hill continued his incredible day with two more rushing scores for Lehigh. By the end of the game, the senior rushed for 162 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries — the lion’s share in a 260-yard game on the ground alone for the Mountain Hawks. His final score put Lehigh ahead 28-14 with 14:56 remaining in the fourth quarter.
With little time, Fordham had to respond immediately and drove down the field in less than two minutes before scoring on an 11-yard scramble by DeMorat. Down 28-21, the Rams kicked off to the Mountain Hawks in the hopes of a short drive.
Instead, Lehigh continued to employ its methodical style of offense, burning five minutes off the clock through short passes and long runs. But just as the Mountain Hawks reached their opponent’s 15-yard line with an opportunity to effectively end the game, they committed one final blunder.
On third down, backup running back Jack DiPietro, LU ’24, was stuffed at the line of scrimmage by linebacker James Conway, FCRH ’25, who forced the ball out as he drove the runner deeper into the pile. Of Conway’s 21 tackles in the game, this one made the difference, and the bleachers shook while a frenzy on the field ensued. Players from both teams jumped into the fray as Fordham players frantically signaled that they had gained possession.
“I was just looking for an open guy. But Fotis does a good job getting open.” Tim DeMorat, FCRH ’22
“Defensive coaches had been saying to the guys all game, ‘strip attempt, strip attempt, strip attempt,’ so Jimmy went for it,” Conlin said after the game. “If you can keep developing those habits, good things are going to happen, so we lucked out with a huge play in the game.”
With the ball back in DeMorat’s hands, the Rams began to march.
At three points in Fordham’s 13-play, 85-yard drive, the team faced third down without a hope of rushing to convert. Each time, DeMorat connected with Fotis Kokosioulis, FCRH ’22, to keep the comeback alive.
“I was just looking for an open guy,” DeMorat explained after the game. “But Fotis does a good job getting open.”
With 3:57 remaining, DeMorat tied the game at 28 on an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jack Lynch, GSBRH ’22. With the game in the balance, Lehigh failed to mount a challenge and could not gain a first down in its 30-second drive. The Mountain Hawks punted the ball back to Fordham with 3:27 remaining.
Though DeMorat led the team through its comeback, Fordham only began to score when Wilson III finally came alive in the backfield. The running back earned multiple first downs to extend both drives and on the game-winning score, he rushed four times on five plays before DeMorat took it himself from two yards out to give the Rams a 35-28 lead.
With 1:45 remaining, the Mountain Hawks’ last challenge failed when Jesse Bramble, FCRH ’22, forced a fumble to end Lehigh’s possession. Wilson III earned one final first down on an 11-yard run to put the Rams in victory formation.
On a day in which the game script was completely against him, DeMorat threw for 401 yards, three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, including one in the air and another on the ground in the final eight minutes to win the game.
The offense came alive and the defense was more timely than ever as the Rams barely escaped a humiliating defeat.
In the team’s fifth straight victory since Sept. 25, Fordham remained undefeated against Patriot League competition with three games remaining on the schedule. The Rams’ 0-3 start to the 2021 season has been long forgotten, as they now have a 5-3 overall record.
If Fordham emerges from its bye week without improving on this performance, the team’s chances against superior opponents like the College of the Holy Cross or Colgate University are remote. But with DeMorat under center, the Rams have demonstrated that they have a puncher’s chance in any situation.
The offense came alive and the defense was more timely than ever as the Rams barely escaped a humiliating defeat. But as the Rams rest after eight straight weeks of football, the Patriot League championship remains firmly within reach.