Seniors Step Up in 24-20 Win Over Colgate

Originally published in The Fordham Ram on November 9, 2016.

football2-courtesy-of-fordham-athletics

Robbie Cantelli came down with this catch in the end zone late in the fourth quarter to give the Rams the win. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

You could not write a better Senior Day script than Fordham Football’s 24-20 victory over the Colgate Raiders on Saturday. Colgate was knockec Fordham out of Patriot League title contention last season in a thriller, and this installment was just as exciting. The Rams had revenge on the mind this season, coming back from being down 10 early in the second half to score 14 unanswered points primarily on the back of their  senior leaders to take the victory.

The Rams honored over 25 senior players and student staff members prior to kickoff.

“This is the class that has now won 38 games, has won 25 games at home, been to three playoffs, has only lost three Patriot League games in their career,” said Breiner. “To believe in a vision, to come and take action to carry that vision out, I think that is what makes this senior class really special.”

The Fordham offense started their Senior Day with points when Makay Redd hit a 41-yard field goal to cap-off the opening drive.

The defensive side of the ball for Fordham had issues finishing their opening drive. On the first play from scrimmage for Colgate, senior defensive lineman Justin Vaughn and senior linebacker David Barletta teamed up to take down running back Keyon Washington in the backfield to get the Rams started on the right foot. However, quarterback Jake Melville was able to convert on two third downs on the drive, and Washington eventually found the end zone on a 16-yard rush to put Colgate up 7-3.

After trading punts, the Rams found themselves deep in Colgate territory thanks to an explosive return by sophomore Corey Caddle, who took the ball to the Colgate 29 as the first quarter ended. The Rams continued to be victimized by penalties, and it looked as though the Fordham offense had squandered an opportunity, staring a fourth-and-11 in the face on the Colgate 30. Breiner decided to gamble and go for it. The decision paid off, as Anderson found graduate student tight end Phazhan Odom for a 30-yard touchdown, earning a 10-7 lead.

It looked as though the Rams lead would hold into halftime, as the defenses for both sides stepped up considerably. Fordham was able to hold the Raiders to short drives, while Colgate was able to contain junior running back Chase Edmonds better than any team this season.

That all changed when Colgate found themselves with the ball around midfield with just a little over a minute left to play in the half. The Rams’ defense made a costly error, breaking contain on the left side on a handoff to Washington, allowing him to break free for a 43-yard touchdown and a 14-10 Colgate lead.

Colgate received the opening kickoff to start the second half, and did not waste any time. Melville called his own number on the Raider 37, tucking and running first to the outside and then using his speed to cut across the field and outrun the defense for a 63-yard score.

But from that moment on, the Fordham defense did not let up another big play on the ground, and only allowed one more through the air. On the day, the defense only let up 134 yards on the ground outside of the big 42- and 63-yard rushing scores. The unit also held the Raiders to just 106 yards through the air.

“It wasn’t so much a schematic adjustment. It was just playing fundamental football,” said Breiner. “We played our gaps, which you have to do when you’re playing that type of offense, and we tackled the ball carrier. We didn’t let another big one out.”

The Rams were able to make their comeback thanks to the stellar effort of a senior they have relied upon all season: receiver Robbie Cantelli, who tore his ACL against Colgate last season.

Towards the end of the third quarter, the Rams had moved deep into Colgate territory when Anderson looked to his favorite red zone target, firing a rocket to a tightly covered Cantelli in the end zone. Cantelli fought off his defender to make the catch and get the score, pulling Fordham within three.

By this point, the Rams defense had come alive. They constantly forced short drives, including multiple three-and-outs and a failed fourth down conversion in their own territory.

But while the defense continued to step up, the Ram offense was unable to get anything going, due in large part to Colgate’s fourth-ranked rushing defense, keeping Edmonds in check for just 73 yards on the day and forcing him to fumble earlier in the fourth quarter. But late in the fourth quarter, Breiner was not afraid to call on his start player to keep the Rams alive.

Fordham had finally gotten itself deep into Colgate territory with just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but found itself facing a fourth-and-2 on the Colgate 24 and a tough decision to make: attempt a field goal to tie or try and convert, knowing that if you fail you might not get the ball back. Breiner once again decided to gamble and trust his offense, and Edmonds did not let him down, picking up four yards and the first down.

“If its fourth-and-2, no matter how many times he’s fumbled, I believe in Chase Edmonds, and I will always hand the ball to Chase Edmonds in a critical situation,” said Breiner.

Just one play later, the gamble paid off in spades and, once again it was Cantelli making the big play. Seeing that Cantelli had lost his defender with a double move, Anderson lofted the ball towards him in the back of the end zone. The pass appeared to be way too high, but Cantelli was able to climb the ladder and bring it down while also managing to get a toe down in bounds for the score and the lead.

“It was super special,” said Cantelli. “Four years coming to a head right now in my last game at Coffey Field was unbelievable. The emotions were running high and I was just so excited that I could make that play for my friends and my teammates.”

Cantelli’s circus catch and the ensuing PAT gave the Rams a 24-20 lead, but there was still 4:55 left for the Raiders to answer.

Melville and Colgate moved across midfield at the 2:17 mark on a long completion to the Fordham 31-yard line, but the senior defenders stood tall one last time at Jack Coffey Field. On first down, Vaughn applied pressure to Melville and forced an underthrow towards the end zone that was batted away by Pretlow. On second down, Barletta stuffed a Washington run for just a yard. On third down, senior linebacker George Dawson stepped in front of a pass and knocked it down, forcing a fourth-and-9. The entire defense played their best down of the season, leaving no one open and resulting in an overthrow towards nobody and the 24-20 revenge victory.

“I’m really proud of the football team,” said head coach Andrew Breiner. “I’m really proud of how they responded and proud of the energy, the passion, the emotion that they played with today.”

Unfortunately, the Rams were eliminated from Patriot League title contention during the game — the league-leading Lehigh won while the Rams were still early in the fourth quarter.

However, next on the docket for Fordham is the most anticipated game of the season, the Ram-Crusader Cup game at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 12 at 3 p.m.

“To play in a venue like Yankee Stadium is really special. I’ve told some people this: baseball was, is, always will be my first love,” said Breiner. “But like I’ve said — and I’m not trying to take the air out of it – once the ball is kicked off we’re playing football.”

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