BRONX, N.Y. – The #22 Sacred Heart football team was within eight points of #9/12 Fordham at halftime Saturday at Jack Coffey Field in the first round of the 2014 NCAA FCS Championship, but the Rams outscored the Pioneers 20-6 in the second half for a 44-22 win.
Fordham (11-2) opened the scoring with 12:11 to play in the first quarter. After Sacred Heart fumbled on its first play from scrimmage, the Rams drove 30 yards on four plays with Mike Nebrich throwing a four-yard touchdown pass to Tebucky Jones Jr. Trailing 7-0, the Pioneers went three plays and out on their next drive and punted the ball to the 50. On its second play of the drive, Fordham scored on a 50 yd. strike from Nebrich to Brian Wetzel to make the score 14-0 less than five minutes into the game. Sacred Heart got on the scoreboard with 7:37 remaining in the opening quarter. Chris Rogers' (Cazenovia, N.Y.) 26 yard field goal capped an eight-play, 69-yard drive that made the score 14-3. RJ Noel (Lowell, Mass.) had two long completions on the drive to Tyler Dube (Southington, Conn.) and Jackson King (Merrimack, N.H.).
Sacred Heart (9-3) closed to within five points late in the first quarter. Noel and Dube combined for a 10-yard pitch-and-catch to cap a 12-play, 88-yard drive with 2:26 to play in the quarter. The Pioneers had another long drive to start the second quarter, going 10 plays and 73 yards before stalling out at the Fordham six yardline. The Rams blocked the Sacred Heart field goal to maintain a 14-9 lead with 12:11 to play in the half.
The two teams then traded turnovers with Sacred Heart forcing a Chase Edmonds fumble with 11:09 remaining in the quarter. Noel then was intercepted in the end zone by Fordham's Ian Williams at the 9:31 mark. Alec Finelli (Eastampton, N.J.) returned the favor by picking off Nebrich with 8:11 left at the Fordham 40 yardline. The Pioneers were going to punt after going three and out, but a bad snap gave the Rams the ball at the Sacred Heart 23. The Pioneers defense held Fordham to a Michael Marando 25-yard field goal that made the score 17-9 with 5:25 left in the second. Sacred Heart quickly responded, driving 63 yards in three plays as Noel found Dube for a two-yard touchdown pass to get the Pioneers within one, 17-16, with 4:10 to play. The Rams added one more score before halftime, as Nebrich threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Wetzel with 0:09 remaining to put Fordham up 24-16 at halftime.
Fordham extended its lead on its first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Jaime Ross had punted the ball to the Rams' three yardline, but Nebrich hit Jones for a 97-yard touchdown to give the Rams' a 31-16 lead. Fordham took a 34-16 lead on a 23-yard Marando field goal at the 8:25 mark of the third. On the ensuing kickoff, Gordon Hill (Sicklerville, N.J.) ran back the kick 55 yards to the Rams' 36 yardline. Keshaudas Spence had runs of 14 and 22 yards, with the latter going all the way to the end zone for a touchdown with 7:47 left in the third. The Pioneers went for two points but didn't convert, making the score 34-22.
Hill came up big on the defensive side of the ball on Fordham's next possession, snagging his second interception of the season with 3:21 left in the quarter. Just as in the second quarter, however, the Rams answered with Williams intercepting Noel at the Fordham 30 yardline with 1:47 to play in the third. Fordham's defense held Sacred Heart without a first down on its last five possessions, tacking on 10 points in the fourth quarter for the 44-22 win.
Fordham had 511 yards of total offense to Sacred Heart's 314. Noel was 19-for-40 passing for 206 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Dube had seven receptions for 98 yards and a pair of scores. Sean Bell (Medford Lakes, N.J.) ran for 112 yards on 15 carries. Hill had 13 tackles, a sack, and an interception to lead the Pioneers on defense. Nebrich had 428 passing yards for Fordham and four touchdowns.
Sacred Heart finishes the 2014 season with a 9-3 record and its second consecutive Northeast Conference championship.