By William Bowman
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG -- Tyler Smith admitted the second time he touched the ball Saturday it took him awhile to get up to speed as he shot through a gigantic hole on his way to a 76-yard scoring run.
Sort of sums up the day for Smith and the Bucknell Bison.
Bucknell held on for dear life in the first half of Saturday's Patriot League game as Fordham stormed out to a 14-point lead. Then the Bison hit full speed in the final two quarters to rally for a 27-24 victory at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium, snapping a seven-game losing streak.
Smith, who has battled injury all season, ran for a season-high 179 yards -- more than he had all year -- and scored three TDs as the Bison (2-7) outscored Fordham (5-4) 20-3 over the final 30 minutes.
"We tried to tell the guys at halftime the score doesn't count until they chase us off the field," Bucknell coach Joe Susan said. "I sensed that our opponent felt they had us beat (at halftime) and I told my guys that they don't know us very well.
"But it was a big step in terms of resilience. I feel so good for these kids."
The Bison avoided their first eight-game losing streak since 1957-58.
In a season that had seemingly slipped away, it looked Saturday like it was going to be another in a string of frustrating losses. A half a dozen times the Bison had a chance to make a play in the opening half only to see Fordham come up with the ball. So when Carlton Koonce streaked into the end zone untouched with two minutes to play in the half, putting the Rams up 21-7, the Bison looked to be in big trouble.
Bucknell's defense had been on the field for nearly 20 minutes in the first two quarters. No way it was going to hold up in the second half. And the Bucknell offense managed just 63 yards on the 26 snaps other than Smith's long TD run.
Yet the Bison took control from the get-go in the second half and never looked back.
Brian Regan gave the Bison a spark with a kick return to near midfield to open the second half. The drive ended with a Sean Cobelli field goal to make it 21-10. Sean Sellers sacked Fordham QB Ryan Higgins to stop the next drive and this time quarterback Brandon Wesley hit Smith for a 26-yard TD pass to make it 21-17.
"It was critical for us to come out and get points early," Susan said. "The more doubt you can put into your opponent, the better you are."
Smith was hurt early in the season opener against Marist and entered Saturday's game with 151 yards rushing, 37 yards receiving and a touchdown in five games. Saturday he ran for 179 yards and two scores and caught three passes for 29 yards and another score.
"Tyler Smith can take it to the house and when you have a guy like that it's so important," Susan said.
Said Smith: "I'm just happy with came a with a win. Especially after the last couple of weeks. The team has just worked so hard. It's great to see it finally pay off."
One play after the Bison got to within four, Jordan Dudas drilled Higgins, forcing a fumble that Samuel Oyekoya recovered. This time the Bison drove it to the 1, but a Smith run was stuffed on fourth-and-inches.
"That was my call and it was the wrong one," Susan said. "We should have gone with a sneak, but even if we missed it, we were going to leave them with a big field."
The Bison did just that and when Kyle Sullivan returned a punt 10 yards and then 15 more were tacked on after a penalty, Bucknell was back in business. Two plays later Smith swept the right side untouched for a 14-yard score to give the Bison their first lead at 24-21.
"We just kept trucking along, kept fighting," Smith said. "The O line did an amazing job and the tight ends were moving the ends. They did a phenomenal job."
On Fordham's next series, Matthew Steinbeck stepped in front of a pass and returned it 78 yards the other direction to the 10. It was Steinbeck's fifth interception of the year to tie for the Patriot League lead.
The pick led to Cobelli's 28-yard field goal to make it 27-21. The Rams got within three on Murray's third field goal of the day. Later Steinbeck batted down one pass and Oyekoya came up with a huge sack to push them out of Patrick Murray's field goal on the final series and the Bison held on.