Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Top 10 Moments of 2006

Columbia's historic 5-5 season, in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, is truly a testament to 1st year Head Coach Norries Wilson and his entire staff. Kudos are also due for Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy for having the presence of mind to hire Wilson late last year.

But I'd like to focus this post on the 10 best things that happened during this actual season. Here they are in ascending order of importance:

10) M.A. Brings the Speed

Columbia's 20-7 loss to Dartmouth was the Lions' worst game of the season. But there was one bright spot. Freshman QB M.A. Olawale relieved starter Craig Hormann late in the third quarter and led Columbia to their only score of the day. Olawale' speed as a runner was breathtaking, and his heads-up lateral to Austin Knowlin when it appeared he was being wrapped up for a tackle was a super highlight. Olawale would only appear in one other game for the Lions, but he showcased his talents and probably motivated Hormann to elevate his game, (see highlight #5), which he did in the final three weeks of the season.

9) Jerry and Rick Make it Sound So Nice

I was among the many Columbia fans who were a little sad to see WKCR's exclusive broadcasting rights to Lion football games fall by the wayside, but with one or two exceptions the student announcers had been very hard to listen to over the last 15 years or so. Play-by-play man Jerry Recco did a solid job, and former Rutgers coach Rick Mantz was really outstanding. Columbia allowed Mantz to observe some football practices this season, and his knowledge and enthusiasm were a joy to listen to. I hope he stays on for another few years at least.

8) Shutout

Columbia was heavily favored to slam the Iona Gaels in week 4 at Baker Field. The offense had a rough day, but the defense was perfect in a 24-0 win that was highlighted by junior Chad Musgrove's 75-yard interception for a touchdown. Musgrove left school a few weeks later, and it's not clear whether he'll be back next season, but for that day he was a hero in the Lions' first shutout win since 1998.

7) Norries Makes a Stand

After the defense's fantastic efforts were wasted in a 16-0 loss at Penn, Head Coach Norries Wilson lashed out in his postgame news conference. He targeted the refs, the Penn coaches, and the Ivy League hierarchy... but NEVER his own players as some frustrated Lion coaches have done in the past. Wilson took some intense heat for his comments, and was forced to apologize a few days later. But his players learned that their big coach was on their side, even if nobody else was.

6) The Liberty Cup Runneth Over

Columbia has played very well against Fordham over the years, but they never looked as good as they did against the Rams in the season opening 37-7 win at Wien Stadium. The defense made it first of many statements of 2006 when Todd Abrams recovered a fumble in the end zone for a TD to break the scoreless tie in the second quarter. Each of the four previous Liberty Cup games had been close affairs, but this was a rare whuppin', and the Lions first real blowout win in six years.

5) Craig Turns it Around

After the Dartmouth loss, a number of pundits, including me, were calling for starting junior QB Craig Hormann to be benched. Hormann seemed too slow and not aggressive enough to kick start the lackluster Lion offense. But in the final four weeks of the season, Hormann improved. He kept Columbia close in the losses at Yale and Harvard, and then played flawless football in the final two wins against Cornell and Brown. IF Hormann can bring this kind of play with him into 2007, he's going to have a heck of a senior season and make the Lions contenders for a title.

4) Austin Knows No Limits

Freshman wide receiver Austin Knowlin came in as a highly-touted recruit after first sigining on with Coach Wilson at UConn and then moving on to Columbia along with him. Knowlin proved to be the most exciting Lion on the field week after week, and he wasted no time by scoring on a 62-yard pass pass in his very first game. Knowlin finished the the season with Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors and a very bright future ahead of him.

3) Ending the Streak

Columbia had clearly improved over 2005, but without an Ivy win, 2006 would have felt a little hollow. On November 11th, the Lions took care of that problem with a slew of big plays on both sides of the ball to defeat Cornell 21-14. The offense actually got things rolling with an impressive 10-play 77-yard touchdown drive to start the game. Adam Brekke added an interception return for a TD to make it 14-0 late in the first quarter. Another stirring sequence came in the third quarter when Tad Crawford skied high in the air to snag an interception at the Big Red 33. On the very next play, Craig Hormann faked an end-around and found a wide open Jamal Russell streaking down the west sideline for a touchdown.

Late in the fourth quarter and leading 21-14, Columbia snuffed the last two Cornell drives with sterling defensive plays. First Justin Masorti pulled off a huge sack on a 4th and three from the Lion 19-yard line and later Drew Quinn intercepted the Big Red's final pass to ice the game.

2) The Drive

It wasn't exactly John Elway vs. the Cleveland Browns, but with the Lions trailing 21-19 with 3:49 left to play, Columbia and QB Craig Hormann were on their own 27-yard line needing to go a long way just to get into field goal range. Mixing the run and the pass brilliantly, Hormann slowly led the Lions down the field. On 3rd and two from their own 35, Hormann found Knowlin for 6. On the next play he tossed one for 17 yards to Nick DeGasperis. Later in the drive, Colummbia faced a 3rd and nine from the Brown 29... shaky field goal range at best. Hormann calmly found tight end Jamal Russell, but the eight-yard gain was shy of the first down. That brought up an agonizing decision for the Columbia coaches who had to choose to try a 38-yard field goal or gamble on trying to get the first down. There was no need to worry; Jordan Davis took the ball on 4th and one and ran it nine yards to the 12. Hormann took it himself on the next play all the way to the four, but the Lions had 12 men on the field on the next play and the resulting penalty forced Columbia to think more about killing the clock and kicking a field goal than going for a TD. Two plays later, the Lions set themselves up in the middle of the field for a 27-yard field goal attempt. After benching regular kicker Jon Rocholl earlier in the game, Coach Wilson went with experience and brought him back to make the attempt. It was a wise choice; Rocholl's kick was perfect and Columbia had clinched it's first non-losing season in 10 years, first win at Brown in 35 years, and an immeasurably positive jolt to the program.

1) The 3-5-3 Makes the Lions Truly Lions

Bigger than any other improvement, and even more surprising than a 5-5 record, was the startling turnaround for Columbia's defense. Defensive Coach Lou Ferrrari deserves the Medal of Freedom for taking a unit that gave up well over 30 points a game in 2005 and producing a squad that allowed just over 16 points a contest in 2006. And unlike some good defenses of the past, this group of Lions never showed any sign of let down, even when the offense failed them time and again. Ferrari taught the complicated new defensive system to his players quickly and effectively. He also recognized the talents a number of freshman and sophomores had and did not hesitate to put them in the starting lineup. The young nucleus of sophomores Drew Quinn and Phil Mitchell, along with freshman Andy Shalbrack, Justin Masorti, Lou Miller and Matt Bashaw should serve Columbia well for years to come.

But the biggest kudos this year go to senior tri-captain and my team MVP Adam Brekke. He was the one player on the field who made it happen just about all the time. With huge assists from fellow senior Darren Schmidt, who personified the 2006 season for this defense by coming out of nowhere to lead the team in sacks and tackles for a loss, and fellow senior Tad Crawford, who led the team in tackles overall and made sure no one broke a big TD against the Lions all year.


At Sun Nov 26, 07:55:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done, stated. I thoroughly agree about Brekke. He was a force well beyond stats would suggest.
For those of us out of the NYC area, it was essential to have KCR's coverage, since the Sidelion Pass had many glitches. Clearly, the new video and audio services are worthwhile....when they work. I concur that the WSNR team did a good job, especially the color man who knows his beans. And, they never disparaged the general play of the league and the Lions.

At Sun Nov 26, 10:47:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Columbia 37C6 said...

Brekke and the entire Lion defense had a memorable season, but the most amazing statistic of the 2006 season was Andy Shalbrack's five interceptions. For a freshman linebacker to make five interceptions in one season is just astounding. Do you know whether this is record for an Ivy League freshman?

As to the media coverage, I listened to two away games on both WSNR and WKCR and in my opinion the WSNR announcers were much knowledgable and informative. Given that this was WSNR's announcers first year broadcasting Columbia football games, I think they did a great job. The Sidelion Pass is a nice addition, but should be expanded next year to encompass the away games, perhaps with an audio feed from WSNR.

Thanks for the great summary, Jake.

At Sun Nov 26, 10:24:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would echo the comments of Columbia 37c6 regarding Shalbrack's DB play this season. Don't know about Ivy League record, but he was in the top three in interceptions for freshman in Div 1 A and I AA this year. The play I remember best was in one of the first games of the year when Shalbrack rocked the Fordham QB on a scramble. The picture said it all with the ball going one direction and the QB's helmet going the other. Talk about a "welcome to CU"!!! The guy is still answering busy signals. That helped the entire defense set the tone for the rest of the game with a score to follow the hit.

At Mon Nov 27, 02:42:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great job. I loved the photos also.

At Mon Nov 27, 04:59:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What ae our biggest needs for next season, and our recruiting targets? OLs?

At Thu Jan 04, 08:49:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At Thu Jan 04, 08:49:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...



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