Defense Leads Football to 21-7 Win Over Bucknell

David Mendez

Nov. 7, 2009

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Bronx, N.Y. - There's one thing Fordham head coach Tom Masella has never done in his three-plus year at Rose Hill. Beat a scholarship school? No, he defeated Rhode Island to open his second season at Fordham. Win a Patriot League championship? Nope, he accomplished that in 2007. What he has never done was beat Bucknell. But that changed today as the Rams used a solid defense, forcing three Bison turnovers, to defeat Bucknell, 21-7, on Jack Coffey Field.

With the win, the Rams snap a two-game losing streak and go to 4-5 overall, 1-3 in the Patriot League, while Bucknell falls to 3-6 overall, 1-3 in the League.

"For some reason we've always had problems with Bucknell," said Masella. "It's just one of those things. Even today was a tough game and I give Bucknell credit for the way they played. But I also give my guys credit for making some plays today that we haven't been making for most of the year."

After finding themselves in the middle of a shootout last week with Holy Cross where the two teams combined for more than 1,000 yards of offense, the Rams experience a defensive battle today, holding the Bison to 254 yards, only 68 of those through the air. The Fordham defense also forced five fumbles, recovering two, and intercepted a pass deep in Fordham territory that thwarted a late Bucknell drive.

Meanwhile, the Fordham offense gained more than 400 yards for the seventh time in nine games, led by senior quarterback John Skelton who completed 28 of 33 passes for 305 yards and one score. It is the sixth time this year that Skelton, who entered the game leading the NCAA FCS in passing yards/game, has thrown for more than 300 yards in a game and comes a week after he passed for a school record 427 yards against Holy Cross. He now has 233 completions for 2,917 yards on the year, 14 completions short of Kevin Eakin's school record of 247 and 155 yards shy of Eakin's school record of 3,072 passing yards, both set in 2003.

Skelton's favorite receiver in the game was Jason Caldwell, who hauled in a career-high 12 passes for 135 yards. He entered the game leading the Patriot League and ranked sixth in the NCAA FCS in receiving yards/game.

The Rams threatened on their first possession, moving from their own 12 to the Bucknell 37 following a punt. But on fourth-and-three Nick Magiera wasn't able to pick up a first down on a fake punt and the ball went back to the Bison. The big play of the drive was a 20-yard John Skelton-to-Stephen Skelton pass on third-and-eight from the Fordham 14.

Early in the second quarter it was Bucknell's turn to come up short as the Bison faced a fourth-and-two from the Fordham 29 when Marcello Trigg was stopped after a one-yard rush. The drive started after Bucknell recovered a Fordham fumble on the Bison 40.

Fordham turned the ball over again on its next possession, this one coming on the Bucknell 44. The Bison took advantage of that miscue, covering the 56 yards on eight plays with Justin Pulgrano taking it in from the six for a 7-0 Bucknell lead with 9:01 left in the half.

After the two teams exchanged punts, the Rams took over on their own 23 and the offense went to work, moving to the Bucknell 12 where, on the 12th play of the drive, Xavier Martin found the end zone to knot the game at seven with 1:39 remaining in the quarter. Skelton completed five of six passes on the drive for 49 yards, including a 20-yard completion to Caldwell on third-and-eight from the Fordham 35.

The defenses controlled the game for most of the third quarter, including a forced fumble by Fordham's Ryan Darcey on the Fordham 24 as the Bison were moving in for a score. The ball was recovered by Patrick McGee on the Fordham 27.

Fordham then advanced the ball downfield, getting to the Bucknell 15 on a 23-yard completion from Skelton to David Moore on the final play of the third quarter. But the Rams couldn't capitalize on the drive as a Kevin Heinowitz 32-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter was wide left.

Darryl Whiting

Bucknell was able to move the ball out to its own 38 on the ensuing possession where the Bison punted it back to the Rams. Fordham then used a ten-play, 67-yard drive to take a 14-7 lead on a Darryl Whiting one-yard rush with 9:08 left in the game. Skelton completed all six pass attempts on the drive for 69 yards, including a 20-yard connection with Caldwell on third-and-10 from the Fordham 46.

The Rams got the ball back on the second play of the next Bucknell drive when David Mendez hit Bucknell running back A.J. Kizekai forcing him to fumble. Mendez recovered the ball for the Rams on the Bucknell 39.

Fordham took advantage of the turnover, covering the 39 yards on eight plays with Skelton finding his brother, Stephen Skelton, in the end zone with a nine-yard scoring strike to give Fordham a 21-7 lead with 5:20 remaining. John Skelton again came up with a big third down completion in the drive, finding Caldwell for a ten-yard gain on third-and-eight from the Bucknell 17.

The Bison attempted to pull to within seven on their next possession, moving from their own 28 to the Fordham 16 but a third down Trigg pass was tipped and intercepted by Fordham's Kelvin Colbert on the Fordham five with 2:42 left in the contest.

Stephen Skelton finished with six receptions for 65 yards while Brad Pierre added four catches for 28 yards. Whiting led all rushers in the game with 18 carries for 72 yards.

Defensively, Magiera led the Rams with ten total tackles, four solo, while Mike Martin chipped in with seven total tackles, including 1.5 for sacks and Mendez finished with seven tackles, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

The Rams will next be in action next Saturday, November 14th, as they close out their 2009 home schedule by hosting Lehigh University on Jack Coffey Field in a Patriot League game at 1:00 p.m.

The win snaps a three-game losing streak for the Rams to Bucknell...The Bison still lead the all-time series, 16-9...The win also breaks a four-game Patriot League losing streak for Fordham, dating back to last year...The Bison lead the Patriot League in interceptions with 13 though they did not pick off Skelton today...It was the second straight game in which Skelton has not thrown an interception...He now has attempted 129 passes over the last three games without an interception...Caldwell's previous career-high for receptions was nine, which he has done twice this year, the last time coming last week against Holy Cross...Caldwell now has 61 catches for 938 yards on the year, ranking fourth on the Fordham single season reception and receiving yards list...Asa Lucas caught two passes for 32 yards to bring his career totals to 118 receptions for 1,838 yards, both fifth on the Fordham career list...Skelton's career numbers are now 751 completions for 9,137 yards and 61 touchdowns, all school records...His 2,917 passing yards through nine games this year is the third highest single season total in school history while his 233 completions is also third best...Xavier Martin had 42 rushing yards to bring his career total to 2,538, moving him ahead of Rick Hollawell and into fourth place on the Fordham all-time list.