Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Columbia 23 Duquesne 13

*The account below includes all the impressions I took in as a fan along with the game summary. If you're just interested in what took place on the field, please scroll down.

I thought of a lot of cute headlines I could have gone with to report on the Lions' second game, but nothing is more important than focusing on our first 2-0 start since 1996. What we know now is that this is a team with a lot of heart, which is always encouraging. Whether that will be enough to bring us a winning season is still unclear, but no long-time Lion fan will ever look two wins in a row in the mouth.

Getting to the game was not the most pleasant experience. Despite lighter-than-usual traffic on the always-nightmarish Cross Bronx Expressway, things got worse from then on. You can no longer get on the northbound Henry Hudson Parkway from the Cross Bronx because of that land collapse last spring that is still being repaired. That meant taking Broadway from 181st to the stadium area around 215th and between the double-parkers, suicidially stupid jaywalkers, and the traffic lights, you've got a fight on your hands.

But to add insult to injury, parking at Baker Field is basically impossible these days. The Columbia athletic department has basically eliminated parking inside the Baker Field complex, blocked off 215th Street from Broadway, (so you can't even use the Twin Donut lot and pay them $10 to park for the game as I have in the past), and they've had the NYC Dept. of Transportation to restrict parking along 218th from the Seaman Avenue approach. I'm not sure if CU has a deal with the local parking garages, but I guess I'll have no choice to head to one of them directly next time and cough up the $30 or so for the day.

Subway commuters had their troubles as well, as the #1 train was not running to the 218th, forcing everyone to take the A to 207th and walk the 11 blocks. Actually, when I take the subway, I prefer taking the A and getting the nice walk through Isham Park, but I realize not everyone is in as good condition as I am, or is as subway-literate.

I understand Columbia wanted to restrict some tailgating activities because of alcohol consumption, and they also wanted to set up a little fairground with activities for kids, but the result was terrible attendance even on a beautiful day with a 1-0 team to cheer for. 3,500 fans showed up! It was a disgrace for our hard-working team to have to play in front of such a meager crowd. I applaud the efforts of the department to shake things up at Baker Field, but so far the execution has been poor. There weren't even any T-Shirt concession stands at the stadium selling t-shirts, etc! Food prices were markedly higher than last year, but that's true across the country.

Here's where things turn positive: This was a special game for me as I took my 2 1/2 year-old daughter to her first football game. She was an absolute angel as my mother-in-law pitched in to help keep her happy, but my little girl was fine sitting on my lap the whole game and consuming a boatload of healthy snacks. We didn't even need to change her diaper until after the game.

As we were parking we met senior tri-captain Joe Winters dad, (more on his game below), who had driven all the way from Kentucky to see the game. One of my special pleasures as a New Yorker and a Columbia alum is seeing players' parents come the city for the first time to see their kids play. I think most are a little taken aback by the crowded, apartment-building-dominated, scene uptown, but then they are enchanted by the beautiful views of the Hudson River and the well-kept Wien Stadium.

We arrived at Baker Field at 11:55 and thought about taking my daughter to the kids' fairgrounds, but the amusements were really for older kids. We just decided to head into the stadium at about 12:15 or so.

We were met by the almost completely empty stands; definitely a letdown, but a not entirely a bad thing for someone lugging a stroller and diaper bag up a flight of stadium stairs! After a mostly-uninspiring pre-game band show, (Duquesne didn't bring a band, cheerleaders, or any fans), the new P.A. announcer took over and began his even more uninspiring performance. Sounding a lot like a reject from a 1970's game show, this guy began a boring rendition of announcements that later deteriorated during game time into a myriad of miss-identified players, mispronounced names, and miscalled downs and "to-go" distances. They bumped the former P.A. announcer, Alex Oberweger, to a front-office job, but boy, do they need him back! Actually, they could probably do a lot better with me doing the job, as I am a media professional with years of stand-up experience... maybe I'll apply for the job next year.

Even worse than the P.A. announcer was the sound system person's choice of music! As the Lions were storming the field, some kind of mournful dirge was playing, killing the mood and drowning out the band's rendition of "Roar Lions, Roar!" I'm not sure who died, but whoever chose to play that music should have been the one to go instead.

As the Columbia team took their spots on the sideline, I think the team showed some signs of disappointment at the small crowd. People did stream in pretty constantly as the first quarter unfolded, but it wasn't enough. I'm not ruling out the possibility that Columbia's uninspired offensive play in the first half had something to do with the puny attendance.

Columbia's new field turf looked good. They went with a understated two-tone job that has five yards with dark green turf followed by 5 yard slabs with lighter green stuff. The end zones have a nice font for "Columbia," but it was weird to see both of them just saying "Columbia" and not one with "Columbia" and the other with "Lions." It was also weird not to see a mid-field logo. Perhaps they are working on painting a Lion or the old hooked C-U.

At game time, the wind was blowing pretty hard from the north end of the stadium to the south, so when Columbia won the toss, they chose to kickoff first and take the wind at their backs. The choice paid off right away as Junior kickoff specialist Alex Smith booted the ball deep into the end zone for a touchback. Smith has shown flashes of brilliance since his freshman year, but so far this season he's been outstanding with deeper kicks time after time. He's part of a Columbia overall special teams package, which is not only the best I've ever seen for the Lions, but probably the best I've seen by an Ivy League team in 18 years of watching this league. More on that later.

The Lion defense tried to set the tone, forcing Duquesne to punt after a quick three-and-out. Bayou Aregbe and Justin Nunez made a couple of big plays to halt the Dukes, and then the Duquesne punter put up a duck of a kick that went for just 14 yards. CU looked set with a starting field position at the Duquesne 41, but that good feeling lasted just seconds as Craig Hormann fumbled the opening snap and the Dukes got the ball back at their own 39.

Duquesne got one first down thanks to a CU holding penalty, and then they went to the ground. The Dukes ran six straight running plays for a total of 33 yards to the Columbia 15. Columbia then forced a 4th and short, but Duquesne converted it on the ground and had a 1st and goal at the 8. That's when Columbia snapped out of it. After a 4-yard running gain, the Lions stuffed a run for no gain and forced an incomplete pass on 3rd down. The Dukes had to settle for a 20-yard FG and a 3-0 lead. The kick was so ugly, most of us in the stands thought is was UNDER the cross bar, but the refs called it good.

Duquesne decided to kick the ball away from tri-captain Prosper Nwokocha and rolled the ball along the eastern sideline, but that's when Freshman sensation Jordan E. Davis scooped it up and scampered all the way to the Dukes 41 before getting stopped. But the Lions wasted their second straight possession with great starting field position, with a quick three-and-out. James Cobb rushed twice for a total of 2 yards and Hormann threw a ball incomplete to fullback Mike DeFazio. Freshman Jon Rocholl did get a great punt off, nailing the Dukes at their 13 in what would be the start of another outstanding game for the Lions punter/placekicker.

The Dukes took over and immediately started moving the ball, mixing the pass and the run this time with effectiveness. But on 3rd down and 7 from the CU 47, the Lions secondary began to take over the game. Sophomore Chad Musgrove stepped in front of a pass at the CU 39 yard line and returned it to the 50. Musgrove comes from a town in Mississippi that's been pretty much destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, so it feels good to see him doing good things. And he made a great INT, as it wasn't a bad pass by Duquesne's Scott Knapp, it was just a heads up move by Musgrove to step in front of the Dukes receiver at the last second.

Winters took over at QB and immediately ran for Columbia's initial first down of the game to the Duquesne 40. But that's as good as it got. The quarter ended after James Cobb ran the ball for another no gain, and then Cobb lost two yards on the first play of the 2nd quarter. Why Columbia didn't try to go for a long pass while we still had the wind was a strange decision by the coaches. I would like to see us try to shake up the offense early rather than just try to establish a game plan the whole time. Anyway, Winters threw an incomplete pass on the next play, and Columbia was forced to punt yet again. But again, Rocholl came through with a boot that confused the Duquesne receiver. He actually called for a fair catch, forgot about that and ran with the ball after hauling it in at the 9 yard line. That led to a 5-yard penalty and Duquesne had terrible starting field position at their own 4.

Duquesne got some breathing room with two running plays that went to the 22, but the CU defense stiffened after that. Todd Abrams stopped the first down play for just a two yard gain, and Keenan Shaw then took down the Duquesne lead runner for a 3-yard loss. On 3rd and 11, Nwokocha made great first-down saving tackle, and Duquesne was forced to punt from their own 30. The Duquesne punter did better this time and Tad Crawford couldn't advance it at all, giving CU it's worst starting field position of the day at their own 31.

Columbia showed some signs of offensive life on this drive. Winters came out throwing, first misfiring on a throw to Brandon Bowser, but then finding Nick DeGasperis for 21 yards to the Duke 48. Then Winters threw up a strange looking wobbly pass that Jim Besselman caught along the eastern sideline despite being interfered with at the Duquesne 25. The fun was over after that, however. Alex Ehrhart got a couple of 2-yard runs to the Duke 21, but then CU was hit with a delay of game penalty, forcing us back to the 26. Winters then failed to find Mike DeFazio on two straight pass plays, the second coming on 4th and 11 at the 26. Super placekicker Rocholl was kept from trying a 43-yard FG by the wind in his face, and it left us no points and a 3-0 deficit with about 8 minutes left in the half.

Columbia's defense was not letting up. Senior tri-captain Bill Beechum sacked Knapp for a two yard loss on 1st and 10, and then two plays later, Shaw forced a fumble that Shay Murphy recovered at the Duke 45. Shaw made a great play after Duquesne appeared to pull off a 3rd down conversion on a pass from Knapp to Dan Spriggs, but Shaw forced Spriggs to cough it up. It was a great example of continuing to fight, even though it looked like the Dukes had made a clutch play.

Unfortunately, Hormann came back in and picked up where he left off. He was sacked from the blind side on the first play and fumbled the ball away at midfield. It was one of those weird plays where everyone in the stadium knew Hormann was about to get sacked except for Hormann.

With all of one play to rest, the Columbia defense still didn't look tired. A holding penalty against Duquesne forced a 3rd and 12 from their own 48 and the resulting play ended in a incomplete pass. This was just one example of Duquesne's incredible 0 for 14 performance on 3rd down conversions for the day. A far cry from Columbia's defensive M.O. of recent years where they would stop opposing offenses on 2nd downs and then falter on 3rd downs, even when there was a mile to go for a first down. Duquesne then punted and got a lucky bounce to the Columbia 19. But Sophomore Dan Daylamani was called for an illegal block in the back, and Columbia had to start at its own 10.

When Daylamani came back to the sidelines, Head Coach Bob Shoop went nuts! I've never seen a CU coach chew out a player, but Shoop grabbed his jersey and gave him an earful. I could hear him yelling "GOD DAMMIT, NO!" from my seat many rows from the field.

Columbia got one first down to the 24, as Jordan E. Davis got some carries in the backfield, and Hormann finally completed some short passes, but the drive fizzled at the 31. Rocholl didn't get off the greatest of punts, but a Duquesne holding penalty pushed them back to their own 30.

Duquesne went three-and-out again and had to punt again. It was another dud this time, and CU took over at their own 49.

Winters came back in here, and this was a little troubling as Hormann seemed to be getting in to a groove on the previous series. Winters completed a short 5-yard pass to Ehrhart on first down, but on 2nd down, he threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by Duquesne's Kyle Postell and returned all the way to the Columbia 8. Winters does get a kudo for chasing down Postell, pushing him out of bounds, and saving the touchdown.

Columbia's defense still wasn't giving in. With 39 seconds left in the half, time was of the essence and Duquesne tried to go to the air. On first down Knapp threw an incomplete pass. On second down the Dukes were called for a false start, pushing them back to the 13. On 2nd and 15, senior tri-captain Bill Beechum and pass rushing specialist Jeff Oke combined on a 10-yard sack. Another incomplete pass on the next play forced another Duke FG attempt, which was good from 40 yards out. 6-0 Duquesne.

The half ended shortly afterwards and the feeling in the stands at the break was pretty dim. The offense was doing nothing and squandering the great effort on defense. Something had to change.

But things stayed the same at first. On their first play from scrimmage, Cobb fumbled the ball, giving the Dukes possession at the CU 37. After one good running play to the Columbia 29, the Lions shut the door again, getting a tackle for a loss on 3rd and 2 and forcing the Dukes to punt from the CU 32 with the wind in their face. The punt resulted in a touchback.

The CU coaches refused to give up on the run, however. Ehrhart got five yards on a draw play out of the shotgun on first down, but the same play went for just one yard on second down and then Hormann failed to find Bowser on 3rd down. The series would have been a total bummer if it hadn't been for Rocholl's incredible 74-yard punt for a touchback. It was the second-longest CU punt ever, (the record is for 77 yards and is about 30-years old), and it helped keep us on top of the field position game.

The Columbia defense forced another three-and-out and CU took over after a Duquesne punt at their own 36. A holding penalty put us in the hole and facing an eventual 3rd and 19 from our own 27. But then Bowser made a fantastic catch on a slightly overthrown ball by Winters along the western sideline for a 40 yard gain to the Duke 33. Bowser really stretched out and dove for the ball to grab it. On the next play a short running gain turned into a 16 yard play after Duquesne was called for a late hit. But two incomplete passes and then Winters' ill-advised decision to take a sack instead of throwing the ball away, forced Rocholl to attempt a 41-yard FG. No one should have worried as Rocholl nailed it with great distance and height on the kick. Now it was 6-3, and CU was back in the game. Rocholl is just a freshman, but even if he improves just slightly over the next four years, he has a great chance to make the NFL. I would just suggest he put on some weight before he tries to do any tackling on special teams.

Smith's ensuing kickoff was another touchback. On first down, the defense flushed Knapp out of the pocket and forced him out of bounds at the 23, but a late hit penalty gave the Dukes the ball at their own 38. You got the feeling that maybe the call was a "make-good" to even things out after CU got the late-hit call on the previous drive. But it never really mattered as linebacker Adam Brekke picked off a tipped pass on the ensuing 3rd down play and returned it all the way to the Duquesne 17. Brekke has been the leader of the linebacking crew, and it was tough not having him in the game last week. He didn't start against the Dukes, but made a big impression when he was in there. Hopefully, he'll be 100% for Princeton next week.

Columbia was unable to do much with Brekke's gift, however. Winters was sacked on first down and fumbled the ball back to the Duquesne 29. Luckily, he recovered his own fumble, but CU couldn't net any yards on the next few plays and Rocholl was called on to kick it from 46 yards out. No problem. The kick sailed through and now it was 6-6.

The ensuing kickoff? Another touchback for Smith. The next series by Duquesne? Another three-and-out. The Duke punt was fielded for a fair catch at the Duquesne 46.

But the weak offense still hadn't woken up. Hormann was in now, but he threw three straight incomplete passes. Rocholl then kicked a high punt into the western sun and the Duke returner fumbled it away. Shay Murphy recovered it for Columbia at the Duquesne 5 yard line.

But no matter how good the field position, Columbia couldn't put Duquesne away. The quarter ended after two runs for no gain, and then on third down Bowser dropped a sure TD after making a good move to get open in the end zone. Rocholl nailed the 22 yarder for the 9-6 lead, but there was a feeling that CU's numerous offensive miscues would come back to bite them.

But that would only come true if the defense let it happen, and they weren't going to do that. Tad Crawford intercepted a Duke pass at the 43 and returned it to the 39 on the next series. After that, the CU offense got rolling. On 3rd and 6 from the Duquesne 35, Hormann found Pete Chromiak on a crossing pattern and Chromiak dragged his defender to the 13. After a rush for no gain and an incomplete pass, Hormann found Bowser on the west side of the end zone with a timing pattern. Bowser made a great catch to make up for his drop on the previous drive, and CU finally had a TD. The extra point was perfect and we led 16-6, but there was 11:22 on the clock.

A rare short kickoff by Smith was covered for no return by the CU special teams, but then the defense took its only break of the game. Knapp moved the Dukes 74 yards with pass after pass, finally getting a 4-yard toss for a score with 9:22 left. Duquesne now was down by just 16-13 with plenty of time left and some momentum on their side.

But a nice kickoff return by Nwokocha and a penalty on Duquesne gave CU a starting field position at their own 44. Then the running game finally kicked in. Jordan E. Davis ran the ball twice for a total of 12 yards and Columbia now had a first down on the Duke 44. Bowser then made his presence felt. On 3rd and nine from the 43, the whole stadium saw the Duke defender grab Bowser's jersey as he streaked open along the western sideline. The penalty gave CU a first down on the Duquesne 28. Some short, but solid runs by Davis and a short pass to Bowser left us with an eventual 3rd and 3 from the Duke 10. Then Hormann found Bowser in the middle of the end zone for another TD, and the game was back in CU control. With a 23-13 lead with 5:14 left, the defense just had to hold on.

Duquesne got as far as their own 44, on the next series, but a pass on 4th and 1 fell incomplete. Columbia drove to the 26 on the next possession, but elected to run out the clock by giving Davis the ball 7 straight times before he finally was stopped on 4th and 6 from the 20.

Nwokocha intercepted Knapp's pass on the next play and Columbia was able to sit on the ball for the rest of the game. A great defensive performance and a late wake-up call by the offense had delivered a nice 23-13 win!

My team had won, my daughter had enjoyed it, and the sun was still shining!


Offense: B-

A definite F performance was salvaged by the decent showing in the fourth quarter. But 4 turnovers, no running game, and too many field goals in lieu of TD's won't wash against stronger opponents. I still think Hormann should be the man the whole time, as I think he is better overall once he warms up. Bowser is a playmaker, and Jordan E. Davis should get the chance to start next week against Princeton. Davis has big shoulders, which he'll need to bang into the defenders the O-line will probably continue to fail to block for him. The other wide receivers besides Bowser didn't make the impact they did against Fordham, but Besselman still showed me a little something. I wish DeGasperis could have played a bigger role.

Defense: A-

They were a little weak against the run in the early going and they totally took a powder on the Dukes' TD drive, but it's hard to get mad at this unit that never quit despite little help from the offense for so long. The secondary proved you can absolutely dominate a game with good pass coverage as they picked off Knapp 4 times, forced another fumble and made Duquesne go 0 for 14 on third down situations. Nwokocha and Musgrove were all over the passing lanes, as Keenan Shaw and Justin Nunez made their presence felt helping out the run defense. You get the feeling Shoop really loves Nunez in particular, as he was a walk-on last year and is obviously a hard-worker. Early in the game, I heard Shoop yell "Yeah Baby!" and give Nunez a big thumbs up after he made a tackle. The defensive line didn't produce as many sacks, but they did better against the run. Meanwhile, the linebacking crew was much improved, anchored by Todd Abrams and getting that help from Brekke.

Special Teams: A+

This is an easy one. Rocholl is a stud. The coverage teams make for no nervous moments on opposing kick returns. Our returners are exciting. Smith is nailing his kickoffs. What more do you want?


I'm still not convinced we will go 5-5 or 6-4, but there's definitely a great deal of fight in this team, and the defense seems solid. Some consistency on offense could actually make us a title contender, but that would require a running game of some kind, and we really don't have that now. Davis is still a freshman, and most of his good runs have come late in games when the opposing defenses are tired. BUT, if he improves, we have a shot at a great season now.

Princeton poses some interesting challenges. The Tigers have a great defense, but a weak offense... not that different from what we seem to be like right now. I hope the Lions have a great week of practice and come in with some surprises on Saturday.


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