By Tom Housenick
The Daily Item
Amid all of the talk of Lafayette grabbing a fourth consecutive Patriot League title, Lehigh in line for a piece of one, Colgate regaining its dominant touch and Holy Cross jumping into the fray for the first time in years, Fordham snuck in and took the prize away from them all.
Quietly and without a lot of star power, the Rams sewed up the league title and an NCAA playoff berth with a home win two weeks ago against the Crusaders.
All that is left is a perfect regular-season mark.
Visiting Bucknell (2-8) stands in the way of Fordham (8-2) doing that. The Bison bring a five-game losing streak to Jack Coffey Field, leading many to think that it's a formality.
But if anybody knows nothing is to be taken for granted, it is Fordham coach Tom Masella.
"We want to be greedy," the second-year Rams coach said. "We want the championship outright. We want it to ourselves."
Colgate is one game back in the standings, but lost at home to Fordham back on Sept. 29, 34-31 in a game in which the Rams rallied from multiple touchdowns behind. Colgate visits Holy Cross on Saturday.
Fordham showed some affects of its home loss to Dayton when it played at Colgate, Masella said. But like all championship teams, the Rams found a way to bounce back.
"We didn't play a very good first half against Colgate," he recalled. "We were turning the ball over and were down two scores. But we had a great third quarter, scored 21 points. Things just clicked on offense.
"It gave the kids a good feeling, not the same feeling they had the last couple of years."
Recent history makes Fordham's run this season even more remarkable.
The Rams have had five coaches since 1994. The current fifth-year seniors have had three coaches.
Since joining the Patriot League in 1990, Fordham had just one league title — 2002 under Dave Clawson.
Clawson is now building a winner at Richmond. Fordham struggled for two seasons under Tom Foley and were just 3-8 a year ago in Masella's first on campus.
Masella's coaching style is a simple one: Play well, you keep playing; you don't, you won't.
That is why the Rams have had an ever-changing depth chart despite the success this season.
"If you keep a lot of kids involved, it's easy to coach," Masella said. "Playing a lot of kids who are contributing to the success makes our jobs easier as coaches.
"Last year, we had some growing pains. Last year was a drastic change from the previous staff in how we go about our business. We sat some kids down who were popular upperclassmen because they forgot what it was to be a college football player from a commitment standpoint.
"It was here in 2002-03. Somewhere, it got out of whack."
Things are definitely aligned properly this season.
All five of Fordham's Patriot League games have been decided by 11 points or fewer, including a 24-21 win over Holy Cross to secure its second title.
The development of sophomore quarterback John Skelton, the running duo of senior Jonte Coven and freshman Xavier Martin and the maturation of many underclassmen on both sides of the ball have made Masella look like a genius.
"Effort guarantees opportunity," he said. "If you make plays, you play; if don't, then probably not."
This doesn't figure to be a one-year fluke for the Rams. They start more sophomores (10) than seniors (6), with five juniors and one freshman on the top of the depth chart at their respective positions.
"They believe in each other," Masella said. "They enjoy each other's company. There are very few discipline problems. There aren't any clicks. They are a joy to coach."
The Rams were 5-13 in league play the previous three seasons and had just three winning marks against Patriot League foes since 1990.