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Fordham clinches Patriot League crown

By David Coulson, FCS Executive Editor

Bronx, NY (Sports Network) - You can't walk anywhere around the Fordham athletic facilities and not feel the ghosts of Vince Lombardi and other Ram football greats as the school celebrates its 125th anniversary of the sport.

"Our team has to walk through the hallways every day (in the Lombardi Athletic Center) and look at Vince Lombardi," said Fordham coach Tom Masella.

You had to think that Lombardi and those others were smiling down on Jack Coffey Field Saturday as Fordham beat Holy Cross 24-21 to clinch the Patriot League championship.

The Rams became the first of four FCS teams to clinch automatic bids into the playoffs on Saturday, along with Northern Iowa of the Gateway Conference, Montana of the Big Sky Conference and McNeese State of the Southland Conference. It marks Fordham's first playoff berth since 2002.

"We wanted to do something to add to that tradition," said Masella.

James Crockett recovered a muffed punt in the end zone for a key touchdown in the third period and intercepted a Dominic Randolph pass with less than 20 seconds to play to seal the win for the Rams (8-2 overall, 5-0 in league).

Crockett was shocked when the punt return slipped through Josh Jenkins' hands and then rolled through his legs at the Fordham four.

"It was like 'Am I dreaming," said Crockett. "It couldn't have taken a better bounce. I slid (into the end zone) and (the ball) was there."

Running back Jonte Covan dashed 61 yards on Fordham's opening drive for a touchdown and was the catalyst for the Rams' rushing attack, gaining 167 yards on 29 carries. The Rams piled up 289 yards on the ground.

"We've been waiting for this for four years," said Covan. "We just persevered and got through the bad years."

Fordham was 3-8 overall and 1-5 in the Patriot League last year in Masella's first season. The senior class had won just 11 games in their first three years.

"Coach constantly reminds us of Vince Lombardi," said Covan. "We wanted to keep the tradition rolling."

Masella was most pleased for his seniors.

"I couldn't be more excited for our guys," said Masella. "I think it came down to the bounce of the ball today."

Trailing 14-0 after one period, Holy Cross rallied behind the play of Randolph (32-of-53, 309 yards, three TDs passing), but the Crusaders (6-3, 3-1) were playing catch-up throughout the game on a cold and windy Bronx afternoon.

Fordham tight end Cody Kritzer made a catch in traffic and broke the tackle for a 26-yard touchdown connection with quarterback John Skelton (8-of-20, 45 yards passing) at the end of the first period.

Randolph fired touchdown strikes of 30 yards to Ryan Maher midway through the second quarter and 19 yards to Ryan McDermott with 2:32 left in the third period to cut the Ram lead to 21-14, sandwiching Crockett's recovery in the end zone.

Fordham built the lead to 10 points at 24-14 with a 13-play, 61-yard drive that milked 6:21 off the fourth-quarter clock. Adam Danko converted a 32-yard field goal to finish that march when holder Clayton Busch managed to get a bouncing snap in place for the kick.

Randolph needed less than 2 1/2 minutes to move the Crusaders down the field to make it a 24-21 game. He completed all six passes and ran for nine yards, finishing things off with a two-yard TD pass to McDermott (nine receptions, 106 yards) with 4:06 remaining.

Trying to finish off the clock, Fordham was stopped three times and faced a fourth and one from its own 30. After a time out, the Rams decided to keep the punt team on the sidelines and gambled on the first down.

"The guys on the sideline said 'You have to go for it,'" said Masella.

Skelton ran a quarterback sneak for two yards to give the Rams a first down and Fordham was able to drain three more minutes off the clock.

"That fourth down play might have been the difference in winning or losing the game," said Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore.

But the Rams dodged a huge bullet when Coven was stripped of the ball by linebacker Evan Byrd near the sideline, but the ball bounced out of bounds before the Crusaders recovered it at the Ram 32 and Fordham retained possession.

After finally being stopped and punting, the Rams geared up for one last defensive stand against the dangerous Randolph, with the ball at the Holy Cross 33 and just 1:26 left.

"You hoped that (Randolph) wouldn't do something like hit a big throw," said Masella.

But there were no final comebacks for Randolph on this day.

"We didn't execute on offense." said Randolph. "We just had to come out and match them play for play and we didn't do that."

For Gilmore, the game came down to the Crusaders making too many mistakes to win. There were three turnovers and numerous other pitfalls for Holy Cross.

"We had dropped passes, missed tackles and fumbled punts," said Gilmore. "We came up short in all three phases of the game."

While Fordham has already secured an automatic bid to the playoffs with a game left in its Patriot League schedule (Nov. 17 at home against Bucknell), Holy Cross is hopeful it can still earn an at-large berth to the postseason.

"If we win the next two games (at home against Lafayette and Colgate), we deserve a shot," said Gilmore.

11/04 02:29:46 ET