FOOTBALL: Fumbles, injuries, secondary woes doom Elis

In a game beset by injuries and fumbles, the No. 8 Fordham Rams walked all over the Yale Bulldogs, 52-31.

Both running back Tyler Varga ’15 and quarterback Hank Furman ’14 left the game with injuries in the second half. In the first half, the Elis lost three fumbles inside the Fordham 25 yard line, and the team had no answer for the Rams’ deep passing game.

Fordham wasted no time in getting on the scoreboard. On the second play from scrimmage, quarterback Michael Nebrich hit Sam Ajala on a deep bomb down the left sideline for a 68-yard touchdown.

Special teams for Yale, however, responded quickly. Robert Clemons III ’17 found a seam and returned a Fordham kickoff 64 yards to the Ram 32 yard line. But Varga fumbled on a swing pass, and Fordham recovered at its own 22.

Fordham could do little with the ball, though, and while Yale’s ensuing drive had some promise, another fumble ended the possession in the red zone. Two huge runs from Varga and Furman brought the ball to the Fordham 1, but Ram linebacker Stephen Hodge got a helmet on the ball on the next Bulldog carry, and the Rams recovered at the 8 yard line.

The Rams moved downfield with precision, but they were helped out when a defensive holding penalty on fourth down moved the Rams into Yale territory. Three plays later, defensive tackle Jeff Schmittgens ’15 picked off Nebrich and returned it to the Yale 36.

Three quick Yale plays went nowhere, however, and the Bulldogs were forced to punt.

Yale’s defensive line continued to harass Nebrich and the entire Ram offense. After a pair of tackles for loss, Nebrich’s next pass was bobbled by his receiver and intercepted by Cole Champion ’16, giving the Bulldogs possession at the Fordham 32 yard line.

Furman took control of the Yale offense, running the read option to perfection. After a ten yard gain on first down and a bubble screen to Randall, Furman kept the ball again and sprinted in 17 yards for the touchdown, tying the game 7-7.

Fordham’s next drive found success, largely due to running a quick tempo offense. After a number of no-huddle plays, a pump fake from Nebrich opened a space for Ajala to catch his second touchdown of the game.

Backup quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 came in for Yale’s next possession, but he was sacked on third down to push the Bulldogs outside of field goal range, and the Rams took over at their own 20. Nebrich again victimized the Yale defensive backs for a 37 yard pass, and Michael Marando hit a 43 yard field goal to end the drive five plays later, extending the Rams’ lead to ten.

The Bulldogs shot themselves in the foot yet again after a long drive. Ten plays in, Furman was hit in the backfield and fumbled, the third fumble of the first half for the Elis, and Fordham recovered at its own 18.

Though Nebrich hit Tebucky Jones for a fifty yard strike on its first play, Fordham failed to get anywhere after that. A sack on third down induced a Ram punt with 1:35 left in the first half.

Just before halftime, Furman turned to Grant Wallace ’15, with the two connecting on three consecutive plays. After three more plays, a field goal attempt from Kyle Cazzetta ’15 was wide left, and the Bulldogs headed to the locker rooms down 17-7 at the half.

The opening drive of the half for the Bulldogs went sour quickly, as Furman fumbled the snap on third and three and was sacked for a loss of 13.

The Yale secondary was again beaten on the next series when Nebrich hit Ajala 30 yards downfield. After slipping by a couple tacklers, Ajala was gone for his second 68 yard touchdown grab of the day. The extra point gave Fordham a 24-7 lead.

Roberts remained in the game at quarterback, but this time the team was much more successful. In a drive aided by a 15 yard targeting penalty, Cazzetta nailed an 18 yard field goal attempt to cut the lead to 24-10.

A failed surprise onside kick gave the Rams great field position at the Eli 47 yard line, and they took advantage. A six yard touchdown run by Jared Crayton extended the Bulldog deficit to 21.

Candler Rich ’17, coming in after Varga limped off the field on the previous drive, announced his presence with a bang by breaking a 58 yard run into the Fordham red zone. Roberts squeezed a pass between defenders and hit Randall for a touchdown.

Soon after, Ajala again found a hole behind the Yale secondary and brought in a 43 yard catch on first down. He finished the day with 10 catches for 282 yards, a new school record for the Rams.

Nebrich took a QB draw to the house four plays later, running in from seven yards out to make it a 38-17 game. A three-and-out for the Bulldogs gave the ball right back to the Rams, and a 33 yard bomb to Ajala effectively iced the game, putting the Rams on top 45-17. The score, Ajala’s fourth of the game, tied a school receiving touchdown record.

Rich came out with the offense again and showcased his talent, racing 48 yards for a touchdown to bring the Bulldogs within 21. The score was Rich’s first career touchdown.

Fordham brought their backup in at quarterback, and the Yale defense finally stopped the Rams’ offense from scoring for the first time in the second half. After the stop, however, Roberts threw an interception to set Fordham up inside the Yale 20, and Jared Crayton punched it in from the one yard line to make it 52-24.

Fordham’s final tally represented the most points allowed by Yale since 2003, when the Elis yielded 55 against Brown.
Randall found the end zone on the next drive, as Roberts hit him for a 23 yard touchdown toss to mitigate the damage to the final score, 52-31.

Nebrich closed the game 19-26 for 421 yards and four touchdowns. For Yale, Rich had 11 carries for 159 yards and a touchdown. Neither of Yale’s quarterbacks closed above 100 passing yards.

Yale returns to the road next Saturday against Penn. The game kicks off at 1:00.

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