BRONX, NY – In their first-ever FCS Playoff game, the Sacred Heart Pioneers turned the ball over a season-high four times, falling 37-27 to the Fordham Rams Saturday afternoon at Jack Coffey Field. The Pioneers finish the season 10-3.
Junior running back Keshaudas Spence (Dorchester, MA) ran for 194 yards and a couple touchdowns, averaging over seven yards per carry. Spence finishes the season with a Sacred Heart record 1,669 yards on the ground.
R.J. Noel (Lowell, MA) tossed for 166 yards and added 24 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Tyler Dube (Southington, CT) led the team in receiving, catching six passes for 94 yards.
Senior J.D. Roussel (Pawtucket, RI) recorded his seventh interception of the season, breaking Sacred Heart's single-season interception record.
Fordham QB Mike Nebrich threw for 413 yards and three scores, and a rushing touchdown. Wide Receiver Sam Ajala had 7 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Fordham kicked off the scoring with a 39-yard field goal from Michael Marando to take a 3-0 lead. The Rams took the opening kickoff and drove 37 yards down the field to set up the score.
It did not take long for Sacred Heart to find a response with the Pioneers firing right back in just five plays. It was Keshaudas Spence finding a hole on the left side and barreling his way up the sideline 65 yards for the touchdown. The powerful back powered his way through a couple Fordham defenders before finding the end zone.
Finding themselves with great field position following Roussel's record breaking interception, the Pioneers turned it right back over with Spence coughing it up. Levon Williams of Fordham picked up the fumble. Six plays later, Nebrich found Tebucky Jones for a 32-yard touchdown strike to take a 10-7 lead with 6:23 remaining in the fourth.
Following a couple sputtering SHU drives; Nebrich once again engineered a lightning quick drive to add to Fordham's lead. Nebrich capped off a 1:51 86-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run to give the Rams a 17-7 lead with 14:55 remaining in the second quarter. Fordham had plays of 32, 21, and 15 yards on the drive.
On Sacred Heart's next drive, Spence fumbled the football for the second time of the afternoon to put Fordham in business at the Sacred Heart 33-yard line. Two plays later, Nebrich found Ajala for a 19-yard touchdown to give the Rams a 24-7 lead with 13:22 left in the second quarter.
Reeling from back-to-back Fordham touchdowns, Sacred Heart steadied the ship with a 9-play 79-yard drive resulting in a Chris Rogers 21-yard field goal to cut the lead to 24-10 with 11:21 remaining in the second quarter. The Pioneers had a first and goal from the six-yard line but could not punch it in for six.
Sacred Heart forced Fordham to punt on its next possession, with Noel and company regaining the ball at their own 20-yard line. Facing a 3rd and 15 from his own 46-yard line, Noel found Robert Dim over the middle for a key conversion. Three plays later, on a first and goal from the 10-yard line, Noel scampered into the end zone for his 8th rushing score of the year to cut Fordham's lead to 24-17 with 5:15 remaining in the second quarter.
Fordham answered the Sacred Heart score immediately on its next position. Nebrich tore though the Sacred Heart defense in just 2:28, finding Carlton Coonce for a 3-yard touchdown to put Fordham back up two scores with 2:28 remaining in the first half.
A back and forth first half concluded with three straight punts and Fordham taking a 31-17 lead into halftime.
Coming out of half, Sacred Heart dominated the third quarter to close the Fordham lead to 31-27. On the Pioneers opening drive of the second half, SHU moved the ball down field but once again had to settle for a field goal, this time a 32-yarder by Rogers to cut the FU lead to 31-20 with 11:04 remaining in the third quarter. Spence muscled his way from one-yard out to bring Sacred Heart within four with 2:20 remaining in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was a different story for Sacred Heart, with Noel tossing two interceptions and the SHU offense unable to score again. Marando added two fields in the final quarter, including the game clincher from 33 yards out with 2:05 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Notes: Sacred Heart came into the game leading the country with a +22 turnover margin (-2 today). In Sacred Heart's three losses this season, the Pioneers have lost the turnover battle. Keshaudas Spence came into today's contest having lost just one fumble all season.