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Savvy Fordham Takes Bowl Game in Houston

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Savvy Fordham Takes Bowl Game in Houston

Fordham in white vs SNU in black. Alex Goff photo.

In a Bowl Game clash between two very different teams, Fordham met Southern Nazarene in Houston during NCR’s finals weekend.

SNU came in as a new D1 team in NCR but, thanks to some geographic isolation and an independent schedule, not a clear path to the playoffs. Ultimately, with SNU still being new to this level, a bowl game made more sense. 

For Fordham, a 3-4 Liberty Conference record hid the fact that they had lost three of those games by a try or less, and their loss to Siena wasn’t much worse. 

While SNU is a school-supported team, and very athletic, they are still young and still finding their feet in some ways. And while Fordham is a club team, it has some school support and a bunch of players who know the game and know each other.

That was the setting in which this game was played.

And understanding the differences, Fordham wanted to play fast and force Southern Nazarene to make quick decisions on both attack and defense.

Fordham began the game on the front foot and were determined to stay there, getting the ball out quick for flyhalf Francisco Liguori to operate with. Combining nicely with scrumhalf Ethan Santikul, Liguori was able to use his runners, notable fullback Santiago Thompson and outside center Ian Dellapina to cut through. They threatened with a grubber through from Thompson (another test to see if SNU could adjust to a kicking game), but Crimson Storm fullback Josh Robertson was up to the challenge.    

Still SNU was penalized and Liguori wasted no time in putting the kick over.

Southern Nazarene’s restart did not go 10 meters (a bit of a problem throughout the windy weekend for many teams), and Fordham happily took the scrum-center and attacked. They pinned SNU in their 22, and with kicking into the wind basically a no-go, the Crimson Storm had run out of their end. 

Fordham’s defense was up to the challenge, and eventually when they got another kickable penalty and Liguori put it over.

Down 6-0 SNU finally got some territory. Fordham’s players weren’t, overall, as big as SNU but they were brave in defense. Southern Nazarene  looked to use center Martin Mdingi to bust through the line, but the Fordham defense held.

Finally SNU got a penalty and first-year flyhalf Edgar Galindo put the penalty over into the wind.

Of course it was a mix blessing. SNU got some points on the scoreboard but now had to receive the restart and battle through the wind once more. Liguori’s next penalty attempt missed but Fordham was able to attack off the 22 dropout. SNU got a rough break with an offside on a knock-on call (in the heat of the moment you could understand that the player didn’t know there was a knock-on) and this time Fordham took the lineout.

It was a simple matter of sending prop Kyle Manibusan crashing up, a pickup by No. 8 Sam Miller, and Liguori sold a dummy and scampered over. The flyhalf put the conversion over and Fordham led 13-3.

SNU did well to manage the field position after that. Mdingo slice through for a run, thundering over one tackler before being dragged down. Lock Garrett Elder put in some good support work and SU almost scored. Big tackles from Thompson and wing Alexzander Johnson held the Crimson Storm.

But the reprieve was short-lived. From a scrum Miller picked up and went right—a classic eightman pick and it’s a classic for a reason. Mdingi converted and after controlling the scoresheet and the field position for most of the first half, with the wind, Fordham led, but only 13-10.

But once again Fordham played quickly and aggressively early in the half.

Smooth hands saw Dellapina cut through into SNU territory, and while Southern Nazarene was able to clear. A free kick from the ensuing allowed Fordham back into it and because it was Liguori who took the tap, two tackles later fullback Thompson was the first receiver and he just attacked the line and was over. Liguori converted and it was 20-13 early in the second half.

Fordham’s defense was outstanding. Their forwards battled SNU’s to a standstill and a combination of good connections among the backs and opportunistic kicking allowed them to drive low-trajectory kicks through the wind. SNU worked hard, led by hooker Luis Camacho, but much of that work was expended getting back into scoring position. When they did get on the front foot, impatience combined with a clearouts being a shade slow hurt them.

After the game, Fordham players said the difficulty of their conference play in the Liberty was what prepared them for this.

A Liguori penalty made it 23-10 but after that SNU had a good shot at mountain a comeback. They needed two converted tries, and had the talent to get them.

Jake McCabe almost made it into the corner, attempting to touch down over his head as he was dragged into touch. He lost the handle just after his foot fell in touch, however. Still SNU pressured, but were perhaps too impatient. They have over 12 minutes but played as if they had only two. With a 3-on-2 a grubber was probably the wrong option. Had SNU slowed it down and just worked more brutal charges ahead they probably would have tired out the Fordham defenders and the Crimson Storm could have thumped it over. They went wide too often, and the savvy Fordham backs got in their faces.

In the end, SNU took a penalty, which made it 23-13 and didn’t really move the needle, as it still required two scores to overcome Fordham. As it was, Fordham kicked off and almost immediately got a kickable penalty and Liguori kicked the goal to notch 21 points on the day.

That’s how it ended, and SNU’s young players learned a valuable lesson about game and field management. Meanwhile, Fordham, tested as they were in close games, showed why playing in tough competition is fun—the team played together well and said after the game they enjoyed the difficult contests. It’s what gave them poise in unfamiliar situations.

As it was, the bowl game remains a very popular option with teams that play the games. Win or lose, said the Fordham players, it was worth it.

Fordham 26
Tries: Liguori, Thompson
Convs: Liquori 2
Pena: Liguori 4

Southern Nazarene 10
Tries: Miller
Convs: Mdingi
Pens: Mdingi