All For One and One For All
Columbia 23 Fordham 17
What a magical night it was for the Columbia Lions Saturday at Fordham! It wasn't bad for me either, as I sailed through light traffic, got free parking on the street, and got to enjoy a Columbia win with my father-in-law and my neighbor.
Getting to Fordham turned out to be a surprising breeze after the nightmare of 2003 when traffic and bad parking had me getting to a Columbia game late for the first time since I was a freshman in 1988! This time, I avoided the backed-up Whitestone Bridge and took the Bronx River Parkway from the Throgs Neck and got there in plenty of time. After being turned away from the Fordham lot, I simply found free street parking about two blocks away, beautiful!
I love the Fordham campus, so I enjoyed walking through it to get to Jack Coffey Field. The weather was overcast, but the temperature was nice as we settled into our seats. After a special invocation led by Fordham's President Father McShane, they decided to delay the start of the game because of lightning in the area. I thought that was a pretty good decision, but the delay dragged on even after the storm blew over, (it never actually rained). By 7:30, they really could have started the game, but they waited until 8:05, and it was getting annoying. The extra time helped the stands get packed and probably made big money for the concession stands, so maybe that was the plan all along.
Jack Coffey field was hosting its first night game since temporary lights were used in 1977 against Hofstra. They also put in FieldTurf, (the same surface Columbia installed over the summer), so there was a "new" look to the place. It's not a bad venue overall, but the metal bleachers are murder on your but and they only have 3 ticket windows, which can make for a very long wait if you have to pick up tickets on the day of the game.
Just seeing the Lions take the field was gratifying as we finally got some answers to about 10 months worth of personnel questions. Hormann was the starting QB, although Coach Shoop said on Thursday he would shuttle him with Winters under center rather than go with one guy the whole way. James Cobb was the starting tailback, even though the program and two-deep listed Alex Erhart as the starter. (I sat behind Cobb's mom throughout the game and watched her root enthusiastically, but very respectfully, for her kid. I was glad when he finally broke through for a big run late in the game after a tough start).
The new group seemed to be doing quite well as Columbia took the opening kickoff and started to move down the field. (Prosper Nwokocha had a nice return of 32 yards to the CU 37 in what would be a nice hint of what was to come later). Hormann looked like a seasoned veteran despite his sophomore standing and he zipped lots of nice passes through the air. Just as importantly, the green offensive line which returned only ONE player with game experience, seemed to be giving Hormann all the time in the world to throw. The run blocking was not nearly as good, but I knew the coaches would succeed at teaching these kids either pass-blocking OR run-blocking, and with our talent at QB, it made sense to focus on protection. Anyway, Hormann put his first pass right on the money and Fordham was called for interference, giving Columbia the ball at the FU 48. Two runs for no gain by Cobb forced Hormann into his first 3rd down situation and he made the most of it with a 10-yard throw to Jim Besselman. (Besselman made a good impression all night). So now we had the ball at the FU 38, 1st and 10. We went right back to the air with a nice pass to Pete Chromiak to the 30, but Pete fumbled it away and Fordham took over on their 34. It was a bummer because every aspect of the passing game had been looking so good. I just hoped we would be able to resume whenever we got the ball back.
Fordham took the ball and got a couple of first downs, before stalling on the CU 43. On 3rd and 2 from there, Nwokocha came up big with a tackle for no gain on Fordham's James Prydatko to force the punt.
The Lions took over from the 20 and went to the air. Hormann completed two passes in the first series, the second one a nifty 8-yarder to speedy fullback Micke DeFazio for a first down to the Fordham 32. After an incomplete pass and run for no gain, Hormann stepped up in his second straight 3rd down situation with another screen to DeFazio, this time for 13 yards to the CU 45. After a run for a loss, Hormann found Bryce Marshall, the back-up fullback, for 15 yards and a first down to the FU 42. The next play was just about the only decent run for the Lions in the entire first half as Gary Mesko ran it for 14 to the Fordham 28. But then the Lion drive stalled, as Hormann threw a pass incomplete on 3rd and 7. Then the freshman kicker John Rocholl hooked a low-liner wide left on the 42 yard field goal attempt. Another good-looking Lion drive had ended in no points and you just knew the Rams would make us pay.
And they did just that. Prydatko had a number of big runs on the ensuing drive, and he took it in from 6 yards out to give Fordham the 7-0 lead. The Lions looked a little lost on run defense, and you got the feeling the Fordham coaches were ready to go to the ground more after a terrible showing in their first two games.
The gloomy feeling increased when the Lions took over on the next series. Nwokocha had another nice return of 29 yards to the CU 36, but that was the only highlight. Joe Winters took over at QB and threw an incomplete pass after a run for a loss and was sacked on 3rd and 13 back to the 22. After a punt, Fordham took over at their own 42. (There was good coverage on the kick on the Columbia side as the punt return netted no gain. Kick coverage was one of the few CU strengths last year and they looked good doing it again for the most part on Saturday).
Fordham took over at the start of the second quarter and started moving it down the field again. It started with what seemed like the biggest pass play of the night for the Rams as their QB Derric Daniels found Erik Conroy for a 25 yard completion to our 33. After another first down on the ground, Daniels found Conroy again for 15 yards to the CU 3. It looked like we were about to go down 14-0, but then the defense picked it up. Keenan Shaw tackled Jonte Coven for a 3-yard loss, Daniels threw an incompletion, and then one of the much-derided inexperienced linebackers, Todd Abrams came up big with a 7-yard sack of Daniels back to the 13. It was great performance by a squad that looked like they were falling asleep just a couple of minutes before. Fordham got the easy field goal, but it felt like a bit of a moral victory for CU.
Columbia took over at their 23 after a rare sub-20 yard return from Nwokocha, (it went for 17 yards). Winters was under center again, and this time he looked better. He started it off with an 11-yard scramble for a first down. Shoop had said he decided to go with the shuttle system because Winters was able to make better plays with his feet, and that was apparent on that play. But two plays later, he went to the air with success, finding Bessleman for 26 big yards to the Fordham 39. Then he threw to again on the very next play for 11 yards. But Winters misfired on his next two passes, and the draw play on 3rd and 10 with DeFazio only went to the 24. Luckily, Rocholl was up to the task on the 41-yard field goal attempt that followed. It was another low-liner, but it was good and we were back in the game at 10-3.
Fordham got one first down on their next possession, but had to punt after Keenan Shaw made a big play on Prydatko, nailing him for a 4-yard loss on 3rd and 2 from the FU 34. Momentum seemed to be swinging our way.
Hormann was back in at QB, and he picked up where he left off. He threw for another first down on 3rd and 3 from the CU 34, and got another first down on the next play with a completion to Jordan Davis at the FU 41. Then the drive fizzled with yet another fruitless run and two incompletions. But then Rocholl got off his best punt of the night, pinning the Rams at their own one.
Fordham got one first down, but time ran out after that, leading us to halftime. Things looked generally good at the time with the momentum in our corner, but the missed opportunities on offense were haunting me. The halftime show consisted of a short performance by the Fordham cheerleaders, (the CU band and cheerleaders didn't come to the game for some reason. I figure the band isn't welcome after the infamous off-color Altar Boy joke of 2002, but the cheerleaders couldn't trek the 6 miles from Columbia to Fordham)? After that the Fordham "dance team" strutted to two songs that were definitely a lot sexier than I would have expected. How do they get away with that at a Catholic school? Oh well, I'm not complaining.
Fordham got the ball to start the 2nd half and they went 3 and out. Once again, the CU defense came up big on 3rd and short as they pressured Daniels into an incompletion on 3rd and 2 from the FU 28. That signaled the biggest difference on defense from the first half to the second half as the Lions applied the pressure to Daniels after seemingly letting him alone earlier.
CU took over after the punt at their own 36. Hormann was back and looked great again. Thanks to a couple of nice runs by Cobb, his first 3rd down situation was just a 3rd and 2, and he nailed it with a four yard throw to Brandon Bowser. A good run by Jordan E. Davis, (Jordan P. Davis is a WR), left us with another 3rd and 2, and then good fortune started to shine on us a bit. Fordham went offsides to give us the automatic first down at their 39. Then Hormann found Nick DeGasperis for 16 yards to the 23. Two plays later, the Rams went offsides again, giving us a first down at the 12. CU never thought of doing anything but passing after that. Hormann found Demko in the back of the end zone on the next play, but he was out of bounds. Another incompletion made it 3rd and 10. It would have been huge for Fordham to hold us to a FG there, but Hormann stepped up big with a thread-the-needle throw on 3rd and 10 from the 12 to Bowser who had a half a step on his defender in the middle of the end zone. Rocholl's extra point was good and things looked great at 10-10.
CU's defense kept up their impressive pattern, giving up just one first down and then forcing the punt. Fordham's QB Daniels was wilting under the newly-applied pressure and his throws were going way off line.
Columbia looked like they were going to take advantage as Winters was again the QB with the drive starting at our 20. After getting the initial first down of the drive on a 6-yard run by Cobb on 2nd and 2 on the first series, Winters took off for a 15-yard run to the Fordham 49 on 3rd and 8 on the next series. Then things started getting weird. Winters completed two passes, but they were dump-offs that ended in basically no gain. After that, Rocholl shanked a punt he was trying to slip out of bounds and Fordham got the ball back after an awful 9-yard punt to their 43! Sure enough, two plays later Prydatko ran around to the left and broke Tad Crawford's tackle for a 57-yard touchdown.
The momentum was lost, and the game looked bleak all of a sudden as we were down 17-10. But that gloom lasted about 2 minutes. On the ensuing kickoff, Nwokocha took the ball in the middle of the field at the 6-yard line. He immediately sprinted to the left sideline and got some nice room to about the 35, but then he cut it back inside and outran the entire Fordham team down to the right sideline and he took it in for a touchdown! It was our first kickoff return for a TD since Jonathan Reese did it at home in a close loss versus Cornell in 2000. But this run was not only a major piece of athleticism, it was just what we needed at a crucial time. The game was tied now at 17 and the momentum was back in CU's corner.
The CU defense picked up the cue from the special teams and Jeff Oke forced Daniels to fumble with a sack on 3rd and 9. Co-Captain Bill Beechum fell on it at the FU 34 and Columbia was back in business. Hormann immediately found Demko for 21 yards on a pass that Demko caught even though he was interfered with. Hormann threw for another 9 yards two plays later to Jordan E. Davis at the 14, but he couldn't complete a pass on 3rd and 1 and Columbia had to go for the field goal. Rocholl not only made the short 21-yarder, but he also got the ball up this time and we had our first lead at 20-17.
As the fourth quarter started, CU's defense stayed tough with another forced 3 and out. Tad Crawford made me nervous by fumbling the punt after signaling for a fair catch, but he recovered his own drop at the CU 33. Then the long dormant running game woke up. After DeFazio was dropped for a 2-yard loss, Cobb refused to go down and squeezed out 16 yards on a run to the CU 47. On the next play, Erhart showed that explosive speed he has with a sprint to the Fordham 7. But then Columbia just stalled and Rocholl had to kick another short field goal. It was nice to get more points, but 6-point leads in the 4th quarter are not for the weak-of-heart. I just didn't know if our defense could be asked to keep it up any longer.
At first, my fears seemed to be accurate as Fordham got two quick first downs, one on a pass and one a run to our 40. But that was as bad as it got. On 3rd and 4 from our 34, the linebackers nailed Prydatko for just a one-yard gain after he caught the ball from Daniels. Then on 4th and 3, Tad Crawford waded under a floater from Daniels, picked it off and then ran it back 18 yards to the CU 34. Crawford looked like an infielder catching a pop-up, and he timed it perfectly.
8:40 remained in the game when we got it back. Hormann was back in to stay. On 3rd and 6 he found Bowser for 19 big yards to the FU 43. Bowser's catch was fantastic as he managed to grab it just as he was falling out of bounds. Then the penalty flags started to plague us. On 3rd and 8, Hormann found DeGasperis on the Columbia sideline for nine yards, but DeGasperis was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct foul after the ref said he was celebrating too much. That still gave us a first down and 10, but back at the Fordham 47 instead of their 32. We couldn't get another first down, and we had to punt from their 44. Sure enough, Rocholl shanked ANOTHER punt he was trying to angle out of bounds and it went for another 9 yarder! Once again, I thought the defense might finally give out.
I was wrong, after forcing a 4th and 4 the Lions played heads up football again as Shaw nailed the Fordham punter who was going for a fake. It was a nice hit as Shaw had him one-on-one, went for his legs and flipped him high in the air. But then the refs flagged us for an excessive celebration penalty AGAIN, pushing the ball back to the Columbia 47 instead of the Fordham 37.
CU's offense was out of gas by this time. 2:34 was left in the game. Fordham forced a 3 and out and called time out with 2:09 to go. This time, Rocholl punted in the middle of the field, and the Lion coverage was there, holding the Rams to a 7-yard return and starting their drive at their own 24.
This was it, 1:55 to go and 76 yards to defend. How much could the CU defense have left? On 3rd and 4 from the 30, Daniels completed a 16-yarder to Rashawn Haynes. After two incomplete passes, Daniels found Jim Caffarello for 9 yards to the Columbia 45. On 4th and 1, Prydatko got three more yards to the 42, but time was running out. With Fordham needing to go to the pass alone now, Columbia's defense elected to put the pressure on, and then it became the Jeff Oke show. On 1st and 10 he sacked Daniels for 3-yard loss to the CU 45. Then on 2nd down Oke sacked him again and forced and recovered the fumble. The game was over!