Lions Fall to Fordham's Ground Attack in Football Opener
Courtesy: Columbia University Athletics/Gene Boyars

BRONX, N.Y. – Xavier Martin rushed for three touchdowns to give Fordham a 27-10 victory over the Lions in the sixth edition of the Liberty Cup at Jack Coffey Field.

Martin – a relative no-name first-year running back playing in his first collegiate game – put the game out of reach with a four-yard carry into the end zone to make the score 24-3 with his third TD run with 4:31 left in the third quarter in the 2007 debut for Columbia.

The Rams were all about the run all evening, as Martin and senior Jonte Coven combined for 53 rushes for 296 yards, an average of 5.6 per carry. Martin finished with 25 for 157 and Coven had 28 for 139. Jordan Davis led the Lions with 70 yards on 13 carries.

“We got pushed around up front in the run game,” explained Norries Wilson, Columbia’s Patricia and Shepard Alexander Head Coach of Football.

For Fordham, Earl Hudnell had two interceptions which led to two Adam Danko field goals. His first ended a string of 124 straight Craig Hormann passes without an interception, dating back to Oct. 16, 2006, at Yale.

Austin Knowlin was a bright spot for the Lions. The 2006 Ivy League Rookie of the Year had nine receptions for 130 yards, plus 73 return yards, including one that set up the Lions’ only touchdown, a seven-yard TD pass from Hormann to Knowlin with 1:37 left in the game.

The pass capped a nine-play, 94-yard drive which began on the Columbia six with 4:21 remaining, following a punt. Hormann completed all seven passes he attempted on the drive, including a 25-yarder to Knowlin for a first down on the Ram 27. A 12-yard completion to first-year tight end Andrew Kennedy, plus a Ram penalty for roughing the passer, gave the Lions a first-and-goal on the seven.

A sack set the Lions back to the 16, but Hormann hit back with completions to Nico Gutierrez, another first-year, for nine yards, and Knowlin for seven, on a lob into the left far corner of the end zone. Following Rocholl’s extra point, Wilson ordered an onside kick, but the Rams recovered and ran out the clock.

Lions dodged a bullet at the end of the first half and stayed in the game when the defense held the Rams to a field goal on a first and goal at the Lions’ 4-yard line. With 24 seconds remaining, Austin Knowlin took a short kickoff, dodged a group of Fordham defenders through the middle, and worked his way left 42 yards to the Rams’ 36 with 16 seconds remaining. Two plays later, Jon Rocholl punched a career-long 49-yard field goal for the Lions’ first score of the season, and sole possession of Columbia’s career field goals mark for Rocholl with 22. Columbia trailed, 17-3, at the half.

With just under six minutes left in the half, Martin had spun away from four Columbia tacklers and bolted 51 yards up the right side untouched, for his second touchdown of the evening and a 14-0 Fordham advantage. The rush gave him exactly 100 yards with 5:53 left in the first half.

Earlier, Fordham struck first on a 14-yard touchdown rush by Martin. Coven was the key to the 61-yard drive for the Rams. He carried five times for 24 yards, including a second effort for a first down on a third and two from the Lions’ 41. The drive took just more than five minutes off the clock, and gave the home team a 7-0 lead with 3:08 left in the first quarter.

The Lions drove into Fordham territory midway through the second quarter on a nifty, juggled, 29-yard catch by Knowlin to the Ram 39. The Lions advanced no further, but Rocholl pinned the Rams at their own two on a 36-yard punt, downed by Grant Jefferson. Fordham twice appeared to dig themselves out on apparent 30- and 20-yard rushes by Coven, but both were wiped out by holding calls. He would have a 33-yard rush taken away on a hold later in the half, as well.

The Lions got a scoring chance on the opening drive when, on a third and six, Knowlin made the first man miss on a short pass, then weaved 33 yards to the Fordham 49. On the next play, Davis started right then cut left for a 17-yard pickup to the 32. The Lions moved just two yards on the next three plays, and Rocholl’s 47-yard field goal attempt had the distance, but was wide right.

Rocholl also attempted what would have been a school record 55-yard field goal in the second quarter. The junior was on the mark, but the kick fell about three yards short of the crossbar to keep the Lions scoreless.

Hormann had started the game six of nine for 74 yards, but his numbers dropped as the Lions fell behind and were forced to pass. He finished the game 23 of 43 for 254 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown. His 23 completions moved him past Bruce Mayhew ’91, Marty Domres ’69 and Jeff MacCall ’02 into third on Columbia’s all-time career completion list with 376. Hormann’s 254 yards gave him 3950 for his career; he passed Archie Roberts ’65 and now ranks sixth in passing yardage.

Bayo Aregbe, who missed the 2006 season due to injury, led the team with 13 tackles, and Eli Waltz had nine. Phil Mitchell had two sacks. The Lions did not generate a turnover.

“It was fundamental football,” senior co-captain JoJo Smith noted. “We just didn’t tackle.”

Wilson added: “We are in great shape [in terms of conditioning]. Nobody was sucking wind out there, and the defense was out there for 82 snaps.”

It was Columbia’s first non-conference loss since a defeat at Lafayette in October 2005.

The Lions play their home opener Saturday, September 22 vs. Marist at 12:30 p.m.