About the only thing that wasn't a rousing success for Fordham was the final score.
The Rams stepped up in class from the Bowl Championship Subdivision to put on a surprisingly solid show before falling to No. 21 Cincinnati 49-17 on Saturday night.
"It was great experience for the kids," first-year coach Joe Moorhead said. "The message that we gave them is we went toe-to-toe for the most part with one of the top 20 football teams in the country. It's going to be to our benefit the rest of the year."
The Patriot League team was a late fill-in for TCU, which reneged on its commitment to join the Big East this summer and instead joined the Big 12. That left the Bearcats with a hole in their schedule that the Rams filled — for a $375,000 payday.
The Bearcats were impressed. So were their fans. There was a degree of unease in a crowd of 26,317 at Nippert Stadium at halftime when Fordham had dominated most of the statistical categories but trailed only 14-6.
"When you play a team that does a great job of possessing the ball, every possession counts," Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said. "It was a great lesson for our football team."
He pointed to the stat sheet to show how well Fordham had played.
"We had some individuals step up for us," Jones said. "But we only ran 57 plays and the time of possession was only 24 minutes (to the Rams' 36 minutes)."
In a weird start, the Rams ran off the first 22 offensive plays of the game — and still trailed 7-3.
Taking the opening kickoff, they moved quickly to a first down at the Cincinnati 17. But quarterback Ryan Higgins was sacked by defensive end Dan Giordano and the ball popped loose. Deven Drane picked it up almost in stride and raced untouched down the field for the touchdown.
Showing that it wasn't stunned by that turn of events, Fordham came right back and drove to a first down at the Bearcats 28 before the march ended, settling for a 46-yard field goal by Patrick Murray. Murray came in leading all of FCS with 2.0 field goals a game and was third in punting at 48 yards per kick.
On just their third offensive play of the game, Cincinnati's Munchie Legaux hit Travis Kelce on a short crossing route and he raced past a linebacker and thundered down the left sideline for a 78-yard score.
Murray, who closed the half with a school-record 55-yard field goal, also had a 38-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Higgins completed 31 of 42 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Carlton Koonce, averaging 135 rushing yards a game, was limited to 72 on 22 carries. Brian Wetzel caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Higgins and totaled nine catches for 121 yards.
"We knew we had to play our best football to have a chance to win," Moorhead said. "Our margin of error was very small. We made enough mistakes that you're not going to overcome it."
The Bearcats came away stunned by how good the Rams were.
"They're a great team. They killed us on possession in the first half," said Cincinnati's Danny Milligan, who caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Munchie Legaux and also set up another score with a 42-yard punt return. "They're a great offense. A lot of props to them."
Staying close to an FBS team — let alone a ranked one — was rarified air for the Rams. The last time they had beaten a team from college football's biggest division was a win at Rutgers in 1954. After that season, Fordham dropped football and didn't reinstate it until coming back in Division III in 1989.
All week, Fordham had planned to handle the noisy crowd and the quick turns of momentum.
"I was familiar with the environment," Moorhead said. "We utilized crowd noise throughout the week to prepare the team."
In the second half, however, the Bearcats relied on their strength, quickness and numbers. They scored on all five of their possessions to coast to the win and pad that margin at the midpoint.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Moorhead said. "I'm very proud. We will never accept defeat but I was very proud of how we approached the game, our effort."
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