BRONX, N.Y. – With Columbia trailing just 10-0 at the half, No. 21 Fordham scored 28 third quarter points to come away with a 52-7 victory over the Lions on Saturday to reclaim the Liberty Cup. Columbia will host Monmouth next Saturday, September 28, at 12:30 p.m. in their home opener at Robert K. Kraft Field at Wien Stadium.
Junior Ryan Flannery had a career-day, catching six passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. Senior running back Marcorus Garrett accumulated 89 yards on the ground on 15 attempts. Senior Zach Olinger led the defense with nine tackles.
The Rams’ (4-0) high-octane, read-option offense threatened to score on the opening drive of the game, moving deep into Columbia territory. On third and eight, defensive back Trevor Bell wrapped up Jorge Solano three yards shy of the first down to force a field goal try. However, Michael Morando’s 36-yard attempted sailed wide right to keep the game scoreless.
After the Lions went three and out on their first drive, Fordham took over at their own 33. On third down, linebacker Vinny Pugliese stripped Rams’ quarterback Michael Nebrich and Brian East picked up the loose ball for Columbia to regain possession with 9:31 left in the first quarter.
Fordham regained the ball just under two minutes later. Nebrich connected on 4-of-5 passes to set up an eight yard touchdown run by Carlton Koonce, putting the Rams ahead, 7-0, with 5:02 remaining in the opening frame.
Junior quarterback Brett Nottingham, making his Columbia debut, found his rhythm on the Lions third drive, completing four passes in a row, including a perfectly placed over-the-shoulder, 25-yard strike to Connor Nelligan down the right sideline. With the ball on the Fordham 13, the Rams Jordan Chapman jumped the route and intercepted a pass at the two-yard line to prevent Columbia from getting on the board.
The Rams turned the turnover into three points, marching 70 yards to set up a 38-yard field goal by Morando to extend the margin to 10-0 with 10:50 before halftime.
Fordham threatened again just before the end of the half, running a two-minute drill to near perfection. The Rams’ drive started with 1:48 left in the quarter and they marched down the field all the way to the Lions’ nine-yard line with nine seconds left. On third and one and no timeouts left, Nebrich hit Sam Ajala for a short gain for a first down inbounds. The game clock had expired, but the officials ruled there was two seconds left allowing Fordham to get off one last play. However, the Lions defense held firm. East knocked the ball loose and recovered a fumble from Nebrich on a quarterback keeper as time expired to keep it a 10-point contest.
A 46-yard punt by Paul Delaney pinned the Rams inside their own one yard line, but two personal foul face mask penalties by Columbia moved Fordham across the 50-yard line. On first and ten from the Lions 35, Nebrich fumbled for the second time after being pick-pocketed by Jeremy Mingo. Travis Reim jumped on the ball at the 16.
Just two plays later, Ian Williams broke free on the pass rush and got off a blindside hit on Nottingham, who lost the football. Brett Biestek dove onto the ball in the endzone make it 17-0 with 10:29 left in the third quarter.
Another Columbia drive was halted after its third turnover of the game. Nottingham connected with Ryan Flannery three times to move into Rams territory, but a pass intended for Nelligan went off the junior wideout’s hands and was corralled by Fordham’s Levon Williams for the team’s second pick of the contest.
It took just five plays for Fordham to capitalize, pushing the lead to 24-0 after a Brian Wetzel 29-yard touchdown reception with 3:35 to go in the third.
From there, Nebrich threw touchdown passes to Tebucky Jones and Wetzel to cap the 28-point quarter for the Rams.
Koonce finished his day with a one-yard touchdown rush with 12:13 left in the fourth quarter.
A mishandled fair catch on a punt by Griffin Lowry gave Fordham the ball back at the Columbia one and Kendal Pearcy found the endzone.
The Lions broke up the shutout bid with a 10-play, 82-yard drive, capped by a 11-yard touchdown pass from Trevor McDonagh to Flannery with 3:27 remaining.
Koonce rushed for 163 yards on 27 attempts. Nebrich was 32-for-38 on his pass attempts for 347 yards and added 86 more on the ground.