Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Rare Pick

This is a first in a series of posts focusing on the individual seasons of Columbia's key football players in 2006

I've already written a lot about how Columbia QB Craig Hormann turned his season around in the final three games, but there was one consistent strength he showed throughout 2006 that must have played a big role in his choice by the Ivy League coaches as second team All Ivy. Craig Hormann is flat out the toughest QB to pick off in the Ivies. He played in 39 of the 40 total quarters for CU, threw 329 passes, and only six of them were intercepted. That's just one pick per 54 passes thrown.

That was far and away, the best rate among Ivy QB's. Here's the total list:

Name: Interception Rate

1. Craig Hormann (Columbia): 1 in every 54 passes

2. Matt Polhemus (Yale): 1 in every 35 passes

3. Jeff Terrell (Princeton): 1 in every 30 passes

4. Chris Pizzotti (Harvard): 1 in every 28 passes

5T. Mike Fritz (Dartmouth): 1 in every 26 passes

5T. Robert Irvin (Penn): 1 in every 26 passes

7T. Nate Ford (Cornell): 1 in every 22 passes

7T. Liam O'Hagan (Harvard): 1 in every 22 passes

9. Joe DiGiacomo (Brown): 1 in every 21 passes

So in other words, Craig Hormann was 54% less likely to throw an interception than the next best Ivy QB in this category. It's just amazing to have a quarterback who is that unlikely to get picked off. But also remember that Columbia ran the ball less frequently and less effectively than any team in the league, and opposing defenses pretty much looked for the pass on almost every play. And one of Hormann's interceptions was off a Hail Mary job at the end of the half at Yale.

Being a frequently-throwing QB and avoiding the regular INT is a rarity at every level of football. Some QB's overcome their interception-throwing tendencies over time, but even the greats have trouble with this, ask Brett Favre who throws an interception for every 30 attempts, Roger Staubach who tossed an INT once every 27 throws, and Joe Namath threw a pick for every 17 passes. Interestingly, Joe Montana, Steve Young and Tom Brady all have a 1 in 38 interception-to-pass ratio.

This is the stat Craig Hormann can be most proud of by far. And if he is able to maintain anything close to his 1 in 54 ratio next season, he would have to go down as one of the most sure-handed passers in almost all of organized football history.

The flip side to all of this is Hormann only threw seven TD passes. But Columbia only scored 11 offensive touchdowns all season, so when the Lions offense was effective, Hormann was usually a very big reason why. So, while throwing only seven TD passes in a 10 game season is nothing to write home about, in Hormann's case it is not a badge of shame either.

Another problem with all of this is Hormann's low interception rate probably has something to do with the small number of long passes he attempted in 2006. Going for the bomb often leads to picks and throwing short is usually a safer way to go. In 2005, Hormann threw eight interceptions on 260 passes for a very respectable 1 in 33 ratio. But one reason his numbers weren't as impressive in 2005 is because Hormann threw the ball deep much more often. His deep threat that season was Brandon Bowser, who graduated last May. As much as I'd like to see Hormann repeat the 1 in 54 ratio this coming season, I don't want it to be the result of Columbia not having a legitimate deep threat. Austin Knowlin can catch passes for big gainers, but he seems like more of a catch and run type than the guy who grabs the ball on the fly 50 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The other probable starting wide receiver in 2007 is Taylor Joseph, who also does not look like a classic deep threat.

That's where Tim Paulin comes in. Paulin has good speed and the body type to be a classic target for the deep ball. He'll need to work hard in the off season and focus on holding on to the ball, (he dropped a sure TD pass at Harvard and lost a costly fumble in the Georgetown game), but he could add a very important dimension to the Lion offense in 2007.

YPA Improvement

Despite not having a real deep threat target in 2006, Hormann improved in what I think is one of the most important stats in all of football: yards per pass attempt. Generally, a YPA of seven yards or better is considered the gold standard at any level. Guys like Joe Montana (7.5 career YPA), Dan Marino (7.3 career YPA), and Peyton Manning (7.7 career YPA), all sport super YPA numbers. In 2005, Hormann's YPA was 5.7 and this year it improved nicely to 6.1. He'll need to get that closer to 6.5 or better to jump-start the Lion offense in 2007.

Here are the 2006 Ivy League YPA Standings

1T. Chris Pizzotti (Harvard): 7.4

1T. Jeff Terrell (Princeton): 7.4

3. Joe DiGiacomo (Brown): 7.3

4T. Mike Fritz (Dartmouth) 7.0

4T. Nate Ford (Cornell): 7.0

6. Matt Polhemus (Yale): 6.9

7. Robert Irvin (Penn): 6.8

8. Liam O'Hagan (Harvard): 6.3

9. Craig Hormann (Columbia): 6.1

As you can see, Hormann was dead last in this crucial statistic this season and that can't continue.

Forget the Stats... Tell Me about His Heart!

Okay, I'm a stat-lover. But the stats don't show something very important about the maturation of Craig Hormann over the course of the 2006 season. More important than even his low interception numbers was Hormann's new-found ability to march his team down the field at crucial times. Sadly, this skill didn't show up on the field consistently until the final three weeks of the season, but it did make its appearance and now Hormann has something to build on.

There was one flash of leadership brilliance early on. In week two, after Georgetown cut Columbia's 20-0 lead to 20-14 late in the 4th quarter, Hormann led the Lions on a high-pressure drive that ended in the game-clinching field goal.

Against Harvard in week 7, Hormann led the team down the field several times, but two fumbles by Hormann himself and two more from Jamal Russell and Austin Knowlin killed any chance of a comeback in that 24-7 loss.

Against Cornell, Columbia's only long drive was the opening possession, when Hormann marched the Lions 77 yards down the field for an opening touchdown. But I thought the quick one-play 33-yard drive, (Hormann found Russell for a TD), after Tad Crawford's key interception in the third quarter was a great sign of the "take it to them now!" kind of leadership.

But nothing really prepared anyone for the gutsy leadership Hormann exhibited in the final game against Brown. Two drives defined that performance for the junior Lion QB. After Brown took a 21-12 lead with a TD late in the third quarter, Hormann led the team right down the field for an 11-play 80-yard TD drive. And then on the next possession he engineered a 63-yard drive that ended with the winning 27-yard field goal. He'll need to repeat that kind of grace under pressure as much as possible in 2007.

I thought Hormann also showed a lot of physical strength and stamina throughout the season. He only took 15 sacks, but was hit hard in game after game. He limped off the field after one series against Harvard, but came right back on the next possession. He also showed no ill mental effects after he was briefly benched for M.A. Olawale in the fourth quarter in the Dartmouth game. On a Columbia team that's been plagued by a few too many guys quitting the team over the years, Hormann is a good example of perseverance.

Get Some Legs

Craig Hormann doesn't need to become a scrambling quarterback who runs for 50-80 yards a game to have a strong season next year. But he will have to tuck the ball and run with it at least twice a game or so to keep opposing defenses honest. And he also needs to learn how to run that little QB sneak into the line of blockers a lot better. There were too many times in 2005 and 2006 when Hormann couldn't get that yard on 3rd and one or 4th and one plays.

But all of this is based on the idea that Columbia's running game will be just as bad, or only slightly better than it was in 2006. If the running game improves to a serious degree, there's really no telling how effective Hormann can be. But it will be a lot of fun to find out.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hits and Misses

Columbia has just completed its third best football season of the last 25 years, (1996 was the best, 1994 was the second best). What makes this really remarkable is that it came directly after the worst season the Lions had suffered since the historic losing streak of 1983-88.

But the successes this season were no accident; they were the direct result of a number of bold moves by the coaches and surprising performances on the field by several players. Of course, not everything worked and this post will be dedicated to focusing on the "hits and misses" of the 2006 season.

HIT: The 3-5-3 Defense

I consider the success of this new defensive scheme to be the single best thing about the 2006 season, period. It is simply unheard of for a team to give up 327 points in one season and then allow just 163 the next... but that's exactly what Columbia did this season. The new alignment worked a little better against the pass than the run, but its biggest strength was in its ability to confuse opposing teams and force mistakes. The Lions' 24 takeaways in 2006 were the biggest result of all that. There's reason for concern in 2007 as opposing teams may get a little more used to facing the 3-5-3, and five key starters are graduating, but there's no real reason to think that defense will be a weakness for the Lions.

MISS: Slash and Burn

Norries Wilson described his running philosophy at the beginning of the season as "slash and burn," by which he meant he was going to run the same plays over and over until they worked. It pretty much never did, and it was clear by the middle of the season that a new approach was needed. Running out of the shotgun and installing Pete Stoll at fullback were key adjustments and the opposite of just trying to run into that brick wall 25 times a game.

HIT: Letting the Kids Play

There are A LOT of coaches at the collegiate level who just won't start freshmen and sophomores out of principal. It's a good thing Norries Wilson isn't one of those coaches. Rookie starters made a huge impact on the defense, led by freshmen Andy Shalbrack and Justin Masorti, and sophomores Drew Quinn and Phil Mitchell. Frosh Lou Miller and Matt Bashaw played big roles too. On offense, freshman Austin Knowlin was a major sparkplug and he ended up as the Ivy League Rookie of the Year. It's safe to say that without the freshmen and sophomore starters, Columbia would only have won one or two games this year.

MISS: Stopping the Scramble

Whatever schemes or plays the Lions tried to stop opposing QB runs... they didn't work. Almost every weakness Columbia has exhibited over the years on defense was eliminated this season, except for this one. It hurt the Lions the most in the Dartmouth loss when Big Green quarterback Mike Fritz ran for a whopping 129 yards on just 14 carries. Overall, the Lions gave up 371 yards to scrambling QB's on 95 carries. And if you take away the 127 yards opposing QB's lost on Columbia's 20 sacks, you get a really disturbing 498 yards on 75 carries for 6.6 yards per carry.

HIT: Waiting on Hormann

Coach Wilson said at the end of the season that he wished he could START the season after the Brown game because it took some of his players the whole ten weeks to learn his system. Since the defense never looked very learning impaired, I have to assume he was talking about the offense that seemed so punchless for much of the season. Starting QB Craig Hormann was a big reason why. Hormann was taking too long to make decisions, throwing passes that always seemed at least a little off-target, and showing no ability to run when his receivers were covered. But the coaching staff stuck with him, even when many thought freshman M.A. Olawale should get a start or two. Hormann made their patience pay off with a strong finish. He started making faster decisions, avoided throwing an interception in the last three games, and even ran the ball effectively once or twice in the wins over Cornell and Brown. Hormann could really reward the coaching staff for their belief in him by playing all of 2007 the way he did the last few weeks of 2006.

MISS: Tight Ends

Jamal Russell also picked up his game at the end of the season, but in the early games he had serious problems with dropped passes. In the Princeton loss alone, it seemed like he killed two or three drives after dropping perfectly good throws from Hormann. He ceased being a liability in the Cornell and Brown games, but the coaching staff clearly wasn't calling his number very often... which was too bad, because he has an ability to get open. Russelll needs to elevate his game for his senior season in 2007 if he wants to stay in the starting lineup. Meanwhile, highly-touted sophomore Troy Evangelist never caught a single pass and was hampered by an ankle injury through most of the early part of the season. The 6"6 Evangelist would make a fantastic target for Hormann and he needs to get involved somehow in the passing game. The Lions failure to get a consistent, tight end-centered, short passing attack established probably cost Columbia a win or two in 2006.

HIT: Rocholl and Huston

With 72 players on the roster by season's end, depth is not something Columbia enjoyed at many positions. But at kicker, the Lions are blessed with two talented young players in Jon Rocholl and Patrick Huston. Rocholl started the season strong as the placekicker and punter, slumped a bit later in the season, but finished the year by making the most high-pressure field goal attempt for Columbia in more than four years. Huston was solid all year long as the kickoff specialist, and he filled in admirably by nailing a field goal and an extra point when Rocholl was briefly benched in the Brown game. Most importantly, Columbia's kicking game was never the reason the Lions dropped any of their five losses in 2006. That's not something many college teams, especially Penn, can say right now.

MISS: Playing it Safe on Kick Returns

Columbia had some fumble/muff problems on kick returns in 2004 and 2005. In the middle of last year Bob Shoop's coaching staff decided to get less aggressive and just try to hold on to the ball. But it's time to change course and get more opportunistic. Not only did the Lions not have a significant punt or kickoff return all season, but Columbia returners ran away from too many balls and put the offense in weak field position game after game. It may be too risky to put Austin Knowlin into a kick returning role in 2007, but the Lions need to find someone who can light it up on special teams once in awhile.

HIT: Free Beer/Drinks at Baker Field

It stinks that parking at Baker Field is just not possible anymore, but the University did a nice job organizing the pregame picnic area and giving out free beer and soft drinks before the games. This is a tradition they should continue.

MISS: Attendance Falls

Despite the much-improved team on the field, attendance at CU games was down to about 4,600 people a game from about 4,900 per contest in 2005. A winning team next season will bring up the numbers, but Columbia is very close to historic lows right now. Let's hope there are thousands of Columbia alums and supporters who are just waiting for a few more wins before they head to Wien Stadium.

HIT: Sidelion Pass

The new online streaming video service on had a lot of glitches, but how great is it that we can now catch CU games from home when we can't make it to Baker Field? I also really appreciate the archives that allow us to watch game highlights for weeks after the actual games are played. Hopefully, the athletic department will continue to improve this service and Columbia will lead the way in the Ivy League when it comes to offering live video coverage.


I thought the athletic department's decision to go with its own professional broadcasting team on WSNR would end up being a win-win situation. Columbia fans would get a top-notch commercial radio presence, and the students on WKCR would now be motivated to provide a solid alternative. I was wrong. I know these students are just kids, but the quality of the announcing on WKCR was worse than ever this season. Many times, I have complained about how Columbia offers little or no professional guidance to these young kids on the radio. I can't believe there isn't someone at the journalism school who can help out. In the meantime, I'm sticking with Jerry Recco and Rick Mantz on WSNR.

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.

The Honor Roll

Princeton QB Jeff Terrell was named the Ivy League Player of the Year and the recipient of the 2006 Bushnell Cup. It's an excellent choice, and one
I've been calling for since week 8 of the season. Terrell is very quiet, religious young man who let his maturity on the field speak for itself. Time after time, he directed the Tigers to victories despite not having a super running back and having to deal with a brand new offensive line this season.

It's truly amazing that Terrell won the MVP nod from a group of coaches who seemed to have anoited Harvard tailback Clifton Dawson as the winner before the season even started. Terrell simply grabbed their attention by beating their teams time after time. Obviously, he was also named as the 1st team All-Ivy quarterback.

Before I go into Columbia's appearances on the All-Ivy list, I'd like to present the REAL final Ivy football standings. The league has a little problem with tie-breakers, but in an age where there are no more ties on the field in college football, keeping deadlocks intact in the standings is silly.

Jake's REAL Ivy League Football Final Standings

1. Princeton

2. Yale

3. Harvard

4. Cornell

5. Pennsylvania

6. Dartmouth

7. Columbia

8. Brown

Let's face it folks, Princeton was the champion. Officially, they'll have to share the title with Yale, but the Tigers went TO NEW HAVEN and beat the Elis fair and square. And Princeton was a more complete team. Its running attack wasn't stellar, but it was steady. And the rest of the squad was top notch, especially in the clutch. The Tigers' lone loss at Cornell was a bit of a fluke. The Big Red were a much better team in Ithaca than on the road, and the miserable weather that day also contributed to things. Not to take anything away from Cornell, but Princeton lost that game a lot more than the Big Red won it.

Yale was a great team to be sure, but the Eli defense was suspect all season long, with the exception of its performance against Harvard in the final game. And Yale lost to Princeton... at home. You can't get around that loss.

Harvard had one of the best defensive lines I've ever seen and only a pair of offensive meltdowns at Penn and against Yale kept them from getting a share of the title too. In the end, the passing game was a little weaker than it should have been, and that was probably the result of two seasons of just watching Clifton Dawson do most of the heavy lifting. I knew Harvard was in trouble when the Crimson beat Columbia in week 8 pretty much because of the Lions' errors and not because of anything Harvard did on its own.

Cornell was a young team, and as young teams often are, it was an erratic team. But the Big Red found ways to win at home, even against the best teams in the league. It's hard to put Cornell above Penn in my rankings, but in their head-to-head match up they were the better team. They didn't just win because of the missed extra point; they outplayed them most of the day.

What is going on at Penn? Yes, you can argue the Quakers only league losses were by a combined eight points and a decent kicker could have given them an undisputed title. But just as compelling is the argument that Penn really didn't dominate any of its opponents this season and the team clearly lacked a killer instinct. Losing to Brown at home was a real disaster. And for Coach Bagnoli to let the kicking game deteriorate so much is very uncharacteristic. Last year, Penn's collapse was blamed on Kyle Ambrogi's suicide, this season I think Bagnoli has to shoulder the blame. Is this the twilight of his career?

On the other side of the coin, Dartmouth Head Coach Buddy Teevens deserves a lot praise. A team with no apparent strengths other than one wide receiver scrapped its way to two Ivy wins and only got blown out by one Ivy, (Harvard). The Big Green are a logical choice for 6th because they beat the two other 2-5 teams, Columbia and Brown.

In Columbia's case, 7th place is a lot better than 8th. With their very strong defense, it was clear the Lions were not the worst team in the league. And beating Cornell at home and Brown on the road in back-to-back weeks was a great way to close out the season. Columbia did have a weak out of conference schedule that netted the team three wins, but two of those wins were in convincing, blowout fashion.

In a true show of my infinite wisdom, I picked Brown to repeat as champions in the preseason. But the Bears really tanked, especially on offense where the running game just wasn't there. I knew there would be no replacing Nick Hartigan, but with a good number of returning offensive lineman I thought Brown runners would be dangerous. They weren't. But the biggest liability was QB Joe DiGiacomo, who lost a lot of games for the Bears on his own with his knack for throwing interceptions at very bad times. Brown's defense as a whole was also too weak to give linebacker Zak DeOssie a better chance to shine. Finally, it is breathtaking that the defending Ivy League champions finished this season with a negative-14 turnover margin.


Here's the complete list of ALL-IVY football selections for 2006:

1st Team

Bushnell Cup/Player of the Year: Jeff Terrell, Princeton

Ivy League Rookie of the Year: Austin Knowlin


WR -- Brendan Circle, Princeton (Jr., Villa Park, Calif.)
WR -- Corey Mazza, Harvard (Sr., Thousand Oaks, Calif.)
TE -- *Chris Mizell, Penn (Sr., Bronx, N.Y.)
OL -- *Sean Estrada, Penn (Sr., Santa Ana, Calif.)
OL -- *Ed McCarthy, Yale (Sr., Fairfield, Conn.)
OL -- Frank Fernandez, Harvard (Sr., Honolulu, Hawaii)
OL -- Matt Barsamian, Columbia (Sr., Rochester Hills, Mich.)
OL -- Jeff Monaco, Yale (Jr., McDonald, Pa.)
QB -- *Jeff Terrell, Princeton (Sr., Chagrin Falls, Ohio)
RB -- *Clifton Dawson, Harvard (Sr., Scarborough, Ont.)
RB -- *Mike McLeod, Yale (Soph., New Britain, Conn.)
RB -- Joe Sandberg, Penn (Sr., Oradell, N.J.)
K -- Steve Morgan, Brown (Jr., New Albany, Ohio)


DL -- *Mike Berg, Harvard (Sr., Stamford, Conn.)
DL -- Brandt Hollander, Yale (Jr., Indianapolis, Ind.)
DL -- Naheem Harris, Penn (Jr., Brooklyn, N.Y.)
DL -- Brian Fairbanks, Penn (Sr., Irvine, Calif.)
LB -- *Zak DeOssie, Brown (Sr., North Andover, Mass.)
LB -- Ryan Tully, Harvard (Sr., Norfolk, Mass.)
LB -- Joe Anastasio, Penn (Jr., Camp Hill, Pa.)
LB -- Bobby Abare, Yale (Soph., Acton, Mass.)
DB -- *J.J. Artis, Princeton (Sr., Stantonsburg, N.C.)
DB -- Tim Strickland, Princeton (Sr., Cumming, Ga.)
DB -- Tad Crawford, Columbia (Sr., Burlington, Ont.)
DB -- Andrew Berry, Harvard (Soph., Bel Air, Md.)
P -- *Colin McDonough, Princeton (Sr., Milford, Iowa)

*=unanimous choice

2nd Team


WR -- Ryan Fuselier, Dartmouth (Sr., Escondido, Calif.)
WR -- Chandler Henley, Yale (Sr., Littleton, Colo.)
WR -- Matt Carre, Penn (Sr., Wilmington, Del.)
TE -- Langston Johnson, Yale (Jr., Los Altos, Calif.)
OL -- Kyle Vellutato, Princeton (Sr., Marlton, N.J.)
OL -- Michael DiBartolo, Brown (Sr., Pittsburgh, Pa.)
OL -- Eric Miller, Cornell (Sr., Marengo, Ohio)
OL -- Nik Sobic, Harvard (Sr., Franklin, Wis.)
OL -- Marko Grzan, Penn (Sr., Ossining, N.Y.)
QB -- Joe DiGiacomo, Brown (Sr., Doylestown, Pa.)
QB -- Craig Hormann, Columbia (Jr., Indianapolis, Ind.)
RB -- Luke Siwula, Cornell (Jr., Cortland, N.Y.)
RB -- Taylor Craig, Yale (Sr., Lighthouse Point, Fla.)
K -- Alan Kimball, Yale (Jr., Olathe, Kan.)


DL -- Matt Curtis, Harvard (Soph., Peabody, Mass.)
DL -- Brad Bagdis, Harvard (Jr., Paxton, Mass.)
DL -- Jake Marshall, Princeton (Sr., Cinnaminson, N.J.)
DL -- Jonathan Lucas, Cornell (Sr., Wheat Ridge, Colo.)
LB -- Brig Walker, Princeton (Sr., Vancouver, Wash.)
LB -- Adam Brekke, Columbia (Sr., Houston, Texas)
LB -- Kory Gedin, Penn (Sr., Washington, D.C.)
LB -- Eric Schultz, Harvard (Soph., Alpharetta, Ga.)
DB -- Scott Williams, Penn (Sr., Granite Bay, Calif.)
DB -- Ian Wilson, Dartmouth (Jr., Burbank, Calif.)
DB -- Larry Abare, Yale (Soph., Acton, Mass.)
DB -- Steven Williams, Harvard (Jr., San Antonio, Texas)
P -- Steve Morgan, Brown (Jr., New Albany, Ohio)

Honorable Mention

WR -- Lonnie Hill, Brown (Sr., Salem, Mass.); Braden Lepisto, Penn (Jr., Agoura Hills, Calif.)

TE -- Matt Farbotko, Harvard (Sr., Brookline, N.H.); Matt Krevis, Brown (Sr., Northbridge, Mass.)

OL -- Preston Copley, Dartmouth (Sr., Louisville, Ky.); Brian McGuire, Cornell (Sr., Princeton Junction, N.J.); David Paine, Harvard (Jr., South Attleboro, Mass.); Ted Sonnenberg, Cornell (Sr., Holgate, Ohio); Andrew Wietstock, Penn (Sr., Mission Viejo, Calif.); Nick Wachtler, Yale (Jr., Richardson, Texas); Jimmy Tull, Brown (Jr., Cincinnati, Ohio)

QB -- Mike Fritz, Dartmouth (Sr., Houston, Texas); Robert Irvin, Penn (Soph., Davidson, N.C.)

RB -- Nick Cisler, Penn (Jr., Grand Rapids, Mich.)

DL -- Darren Schmidt, Columbia (Sr., Cleveland, Ohio); Peter Buchignani, Princeton (Soph., Bloomington, Ill.); Kai Brown, Brown (Jr., Bellevue, Wash.); Kyle Hawari, Yale (Soph., Plano, Texas); Tom Stone, Penn (Sr., Harrisburg, Pa.)

LB -- Justin Cottrell, Dartmouth (Jr., Somers Point, N.J.); Ryan Blessing, Cornell (Jr., Oneida, N.Y.); Eric Brewer, Brown (Jr., Vero Beach, Fla.)

DB -- Tim Bax, Cornell (Soph., Chicago, Ill.); Greg Ambrogi, Penn (Jr., Havertown, Pa.); Tyson Maugle, Penn (Soph., Duncansville, Pa.); Jose Yearwood, Brown (Jr., Spring Hill, Fla.); John Pircon, Dartmouth (Jr., Whitefish Bay, Wis.); Steve Santoro, Yale (Soph., Airmont, N.J.)

P -- Jon Rocholl, Columbia (Soph., Fort Wayne, Ind.); Anthony Melillo, Penn (Jr., Bernardsville, N.J.)

No Name Defense?

It was great seeing Austin Knowlin being chosen as the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, but I'm not sure if he was even Columbia's top freshman. I'd give that nod to linebacker Andy Shalbrack, but Knowlin deserves his honor anyway. He's a fast and gutsy receiver who will be a cornerstone of the Lions' offense for the next three years.

A bigger surprise was seeing Columbia's Craig Hormann as the second team All-Ivy quarterback. Earlier in the year, I was calling for Hormann to be benched in favor of speedy freshman M.A. Olawale. But over the last three weeks of the season, Hormann picked up his game by not only improving his stats, but also grabbing the leadership role and producing two of the biggest wins the team has enjoyed in three years. Hormann likely won the award because many of the opposing coaches saw how he avoided mistakes and either beat their teams or came very close to it. And in a year where costly interceptions cost team after team big games, Hormann finished the season with just six picks in 329 attempts. On the other hand, he only had seven TD passes, but Hormann was working with no real running attack to speak of. When the Lion ground game showed even a little life, Hormann looked even better. This is a great honor and it should inspire Hormann to pick up where he left off in his senior year next season.

I was also a little surprised, but glad to see Matt Barsamian grab a spot on the first team offensive line. Matt had some rough patches this season, but I think the coaches wanted to reward him for his incredibly hard work in 2006 and especially in 2005, when he was the only Columbia offensive lineman with any game experience at the start of the season. The coaches were also probably eager to acknowledge the fact that while the CU O-line didn't open too many running holes, the pass protection was markedly better. The Lions gave up just 16 sacks for 93 yards in 2006 compared to 33 sacks allowed for a whopping 236 yards in 2005. That's a massive difference and protecting your QB is most of the job for a left tackle like Barsamian.

The other Columbia first-teamer was Tad Crawford at free safety. Tad was a four-year player who took the role of the Lions' last line of defense for three of those years. Once again, he led the team in tackles... but this season that distinction was not so much a badge of general team dishonor as it was a testament to Crawford's continued determination to keep Columbia in games. In a league that sported running stars like Clifton Dawson, Mike McLeod, Joe Sandberg, and Luke Siwula, the longest run by any Columbia opponent was just 36 yards. The biggest reason for that was Tad Crawford.

The Lions gave up fewer points per game than any team in the Ivies, but there weren't many Columbia defenders on the All-Ivy list. A lot of that is due to the large number of underclassmen on the squad, and there were other very good defenses like Harvard and Princeton.

But senior linebacker Adam Brekke wasn't left out of the party, as he was named to the second team All-Ivy. Brekke was the leader of a defense that gave up fewer than half the points it surrendered in 2005; an unheard of turnaround. Brown star Zak DeOssie was named to the first team at that middle linebacker position, and it would have been hard for anyone in the Ivies to nudge DeOssie out of that spot.

Senior defensive lineman Darren Schmidt, who may yet be MY MVP of the season for Columbia, was only an honorable mention All-Ivy despite being second in the league in sacks and tackles for a loss.

I'm not saying a bunch of Columbia players were robbed. They really weren't, it's just interesting that only three players on the stingiest defense in the league made All-Ivy. There's certainly a lot of incentive to prove opposing coaches wrong next season.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Laugh and Learn

While I work on a long series of new posts re-capping and analyzing the season, I suggest Lion fans check out this whimsical writer's account of the Brown game and other football contests this season. The writing reminds me of a short-lived web site called "The Fop" that was written in the voice of a 18th century dandy living off his father's fortune. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hearts of Lions

Columbia 22 Brown 21

Why Columbia Won

The offense and the defense shook off a disastrous first quarter to comeback and win. The defense got it started with a sack and fumble recovery for a TD, and that sparked the offense to start chipping away. Lion quarterback Craig Hormann saved his best for the last game of the season, playing flawless football and passing Columbia down the field time after time. The running game was decent, and came up with a huge first down on a 4th and inches on the final drive.

Why Brown Lost

Playing in his final collegiate game, Bear QB Joe DiGiacomo exhibited all the reasons why he never became a 1st Team All Ivy player. He threw two interceptions and coughed up a fumble that the Lions returned for the game-changing TD. Meanwhile, the Brown secondary could not stop the Columbia passing game. The Bears didn't come up with one sack.

Key Points in the Game

1) With Brown already leading 14-0 early in the second quarter, the Bears were on the move again with a 1st and ten from their own 49. But Darren Schmidt and Adam Brekke combined on a big sack forcing the ball loose from DiGiacomo's hands. Todd Abrams scooped it up and waltzed into the end zone for his second TD of the season and the Lions' sixth defensive touchdown of the season.

2) Columbia forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Brown possession and took over after a punt on their own 37. The Lions mixed the run and pass nicely until the drive stalled at the Bear 24. Despite missing the extra point on Columbia's touchdown earlier in the quarter, kicker Jon Rocholl booted a 41-yard field goal to trim Brown's lead to 14-9.

3) The Bears began the second half with an impressive drive that began at their 26 and got all the way to the Columbia 11 before Andy Shalbrack intercepted a DiGiacomo pass in the end zone and returned to the CU 6.

4) From the six, Hormann marched the Lions all the way down to the Brown nine, converting a couple of third downs along the way. Patrick Huston, brought in to replace Rocholl after he missed a short field goal at the end of the half, was perfect with his 27-yard attempt to make it 14-12 Brown.

5) Brown took the kickoff after the Huston field goal and promptly marched 81-yards down the field to score a TD to take what looked like a safe 21-12 lead with 13:32 left in the fourth quarter. But Hormann led the team on an 11-play drive with three third down conversions along the way, ending in a six-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Davis. That made it 21-19 with 9:42 left.

6) Brown took the ensuing kickoff and returned it all the way to their 45. After converting a 4th and 2 from the Columbia 34, the drive stalled at the CU 27. Then the Bears' Steve Morgan, undeniably the best kicker in the Ivy League, missed a 45-yard field goal wide left with

7) Columbia took over at their 27 and Craig Hormann would not be denied. On 3rd and 2 from their 35 he found Austin Knowlin for a little six-yard play that started a string of four straight passes and completions that gave the Lions a first down at the Brown 30. It looked like the drive was going to stall when a pass completion to Jamal Russell on 3rd and nine that looked like a first down was marked just shy of the marker. Then the Columbia coaches made a very gutsy call for a team that's been so shaky running the ball this season; they went for it on 4th and inches at the 21 rather than try the long field goal. It worked. Jordan Davis bounced off some tacklers and took the ball all the way to the Brown 12. Three plays later, the coaches put Jon Rocholl back into the game to try the biggest kick in many years for the Lions. It was perfect, and Columbia was ahead 22-21 with just three seconds left.

MVP: Craig Hormann. Craig went 30 of 43 for 285 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, fumbles or sacks. He never even came close to getting one picked off. After a very slow start to the season, Hormann finished very strong delivering two straight wins and throwing his last 119 passes without an interception.

Freshman Andy Shalbrack gets a big honorable mention for his two interceptions and senior Adam Brekke had a hand in forcing two fumbles. Todd Abrams heads-up scoop of DiGiacomo's fumble was a lifesaver.


No Losers Here!

Columbia 22 Brown 21

A huge win for Columbia as the Lions overcame deficits of 14-0 and 21-12 to come back and beat Brown in Providence. Columbia QB Craig Hormann had the game of his career with no interceptions and several well-directed drives down the field. He is the MVP of this game.

The Lion defense also stepped up big bouncing back from a quick 14-0 deficit and held the super Bear offense to just 7 points over the last three quarters.

Columbia's final record is 5-5, its first non-losing season since 1996 and its first win over Brown at Brown since 1971.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Columbia-Brown Keys

Columbia is a 7.5 point underdog at Brown Saturday.


I don't think mental attitude has played a bigger role in any game this season for either team than it will tomorrow at Brown Stadium. On one hand, Columbia has to be coming into this contest feeling good about last week's long-awaited Ivy win over Cornell. On the other hand, Brown has to be discouraged by losing two very close games in a row to Yale at home and then to Dartmouth in Hanover. And of course you have to consider the fact that this is the final game for 25 seniors on the Brown squad and 15 seniors at Columbia.

The team with the more positive mental attitude will probably show itself early in this game. Enthusiasm usually boils over well before the opening kickoff and I expect the hungrier team to make a statement right away.

Yesterday, I wrote about the enormous meaning a win would have for Columbia. And while the Brown seniors, especially super linebacker Zak DeOssie, will probably be motivated, I'm not sure the Bears will bring their heart and soul to the field. The Lions may have a great opportunity to sneak up on this team and grab a win.

Scouting Brown

I actually picked Brown to win the league this summer. I thought the impressive offensive line, and the DiGiacomo-to-Hill air connection would make up for the loss of Nick Hartigan and lead the Bears to a 6-1 season. But after Harvard smoked Brown in Providence in week 2, it became apparent that both the Bear offense and defense were not up to their 2005 or 2004 quality.

I thought quarterback Joe DiGiacomo would shine in his senior season and shake off his erratic tendancies. But Joe D is still throwing way to many interceptions, (13), and he hasn't been able to hook up with wide receiver Lonnie Hill anywhere near as much as I thought he would. The result is a Brown team that's scoring an uncharacteristically low 22.7 points a game.

That said, the Bears are still a very good passing team. Hill and fellow receiver Paul Raymond both have more than 600 yards receiving and a third receiver, Colin Cloherty has three touchdowns on just 17 total catches.

The defense is solid, but not spectacular. Zak DeOssie is a force in the middle, but he isn't breaking any records when it comes to tackles for a loss or sacks. Another big question is why Brown hasn't forced more turnovers. They've intercepted just seven passes and recovered only one fumble this season and their +/- turnover ratio is a weak 8:18.

But special teams has been a strength for the Bears. Their most dangerous weapon in this game will be senior kick and punt returner Brandon Markey. Columbia's kick coverage has been sketchy all year, and now they must face the most dangerous return man and team in the league on the last day of the season.

And Brown obviously has a lot of talent, and when they're focused they're dangerous. A highlight this season has to be their 30-27 overtime win over Penn at Franklin Field. Any team that can win at Penn has the ability to beat anyone in this league.

For Columbia to win it must do a lot of the same things it did last week against Cornell. An early lead would do wonders, as would an early long drive that establishes the pass to open up running lanes later in the game. And the Lions can't turn the ball over to a team that's struggled to get any takeaways this season already.

I like the way Columbia's passing game has improved, and Brown is giving up hefty 7.5 yards per pass attempt as it is. Add to that the Bears inability to grab a lot of interceptions, and Hormann could have a big day if he can continue to spread the ball around to a number of receivers. Last week, Dartmouth QB Mike Fritz was just as deadly with the pass as he was with his feet.

In many ways, this will be a crucial game for Craig Hormann. A good performance would show that he's really improved and solidify his claim for the starting spot for his senior season in '07. Whether we will see freshman QB M.A. Olawale tomorrow is a mystery, but I still think it wouldn't hurt to use him on a series or two to cross up the defense.

Brown could lay an egg tomorrow, but something tells me this will be a competitive game until the end. And with homefield advantage and reliable kicker, the Bears will probably pull this one out.

PREDICTION: Brown 21 Columbia 17


Pennsylvania -6.5 at Cornell

The most erratic teams in the league face off in Ithaca. Penn has played like a champ at times, and a better kicking situation could have led them to a title this season. Cornell has been strong at home and weak on the road. I think Penn is really looking to prove something after their nice win over Harvard last week and Cornell's young squad may be about ready to pack it in for the year.

PREDICTION: Penn 20 Cornell 16

Dartmouth -14.5 at Princeton

This game reminds me a lot of 1995, when a strong Princeton team was shocked by the upstart Big Green at Palmer Stadium and the game ended in a tie. Princeton held on to win the Ivy title, but just barely. I think Dartmouth will give the Tigers a run for their money, but there are no more ties in college football.

PREDICTION: Princeton 17 Dartmouth 14

Yale +6.5 at Harvard

Both of these teams are very good, but the Crimson match up very well against an Eli squad that relies on the run to win. Harvard crushes the run game after game, and they will do so again Saturday. No title for the Bulldogs.

PREDICTION: Harvard 24 Yale 16

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Loosening the Bottle Cap

The Ivy League schedule is a quirky thing. The current configuration, (which has been around since 2000 and we're stuck with it for another decade or so), has presented an interesting quirk for Columbia in that Dartmouth seems to be wounding the Lions' opponents in the weeks immediately prior to when they face Columbia.

The Lions' last three Ivy opponents; Harvard, Cornell and Brown each played Dartmouth the week immediately prior to facing Columbia. And Penn played Dartmouth two weeks before hosting the Lions, but did not face an Ivy opponent in the interim week. Considering Columbia's decent performances against each of those teams this season, (we'll see about Brown), should the Lions send the Big Green a "thank you" note?

Well, since Dartmouth made Columbia look bad in their 20-7 win over the Lion at Baker Field in week 6, I don't think Columbia should be too grateful. But I do think the vastly different styles of play presented by the two teams are giving opposing Ivy teams a little trouble as they need to adjust quickly in practice.

The Big Green is a running team this year, and their best weapon has been QB Mike Fritz running for big gains on key plays. Columbia has had little success running the ball, and QB Craig Hormann rarely tries to scramble. Columbia has a multitude of receiving targets, and Dartmouth pretty much relies on Ryan Fuselier when they pass. The Big Green defense has had an inconsistent season, but has been especially burned by the big-name Ivy backs Mike McLeod and Clifton Dawson. Neither McLeod nor Dawson was the key reason their team beat the Lions.

There's also a considerable mental aspect to all of this. Dartmouth and Columbia have been the Ivy League's bottom-feeders for a while now, and the prospect of playing two straight games against non-contenders seems to be producing a little sloppiness by the second week. Harvard was crisp in its 28-0 rout of the Big Green at Hanover in week 7, but looked very beatable in their 24-7 win over Columbia a week later in Cambridge. Cornell looked strong in the first half against Dartmouth in the Big Red's 28-25 win at home in week 8, but the weaker play they exhibited in the second half carried over to the first quarter in week 9 when the Lions jumped to a 14-0 lead.

Call me crazy; but I think Columbia has really benefitted from all this. I also expect the trend to continue this weekend, even though the Big Green beat Brown and presumably the Bears will be more focused on a win to end the season on a better note. In this case, the tough way Brown lost last week is still probably on a lot of players' and coaches' minds. Trying to forget losses like that can be really tough and the Lions can capitalize on Brown's distractions.

So thanks Dartmouth, and I hope you don't find it rude if we beat in Hanover next season anyway!

The Drive For Five: Take 3

Saturday's game at Brown presents tremendous upside for Columbia. The chance to go 5-5 and avoid a losing season for the first time in 10 years would be the biggest deal, but going 2-5 in the Ivies and finishing in a likely four-way tie in the league would not be bad either. And beating the Bears in Providence for the first time since 1971 would be the icing on the cake.

The Lions have been in a similar position twice in the last eight years. In 1998, Columbia was enjoying one of its high points during a roller coaster season that saw them win a 24-0 game over Harvard, but also lose by more than three touchdowns at Yale and suffer a shutout at home against Princeton. Coming into the final game at home against Brown, Columbia was on a two-game win streak; first beating Dartmouth in Hanover for the first time since 1946, (and the first time anywhere since 1971), and then beating Cornell at home. That put their record at 4-5 and 3-3 in the Ivies. A win over the high-scoring 1998 Brown team would not only give the Lions a respectable 5-5 record, but a winning record in the league.

The Bears were playing for a lot more; they had a shot to share the Ivy title with a win and a Penn loss. The 1998 Brown team was stacked with offensive power. QB James Perry, wide receivers Sean Morey and Stephen Campbell, tight end Zachary Burns, and center Tim Hevesy were all FIRST-TEAM All-Ivy selections at the end of the season. Burns was even named as a first-team All American. A few weeks earlier, the Bears had defeated Penn 58-51 in the highest scoring game in Ivy history.

The game turned out to be a very surprising defensive struggle. Columbia came into the game giving up just 18.3 points a game, but the Bears couldn't get their passing game going. Finally, a missed tackle on the eastern sidelines led to a Brown TD and the Bears had a 10-3 lead late in the fourth quarter. Then Columbia Head Coach Ray Tellier put the game into the hands of freshman running back Jonathan Reese. Using a simple pitch-out play, Columbia started to drive down the field getting all the way down to the one yard line before they faced a 4th down situation. Tellier elected to go with a pass, and it was intercepted in the end zone. Brown got the win, but Penn beat Cornell as well and the Bears had to settle for a second-place tie with Yale.

Five years later, the 2003 Lions were right back in the same spot. An up-and-down season was looking better as Columbia came into the Brown game at Wien Stadium riding a two-game win streak after a 16-13 win over Harvard at home and 34-21 win over Cornell in Ithaca. Once again, the Lions were 4-5 overall and 3-3 in the Ivies. This time, Brown was in exactly the same boat; 4-5 overall and 3-3 in the league. The winner would not only clinch a winning record overall, but end up in a four-way tie for second in the Ivies.

But Columbia was never really in the game as the Bears ripped the Lions 42-10. In a taste of things to come, Brown tailback Nick Hartigan had a big day and the season ended on a sour note for the Columbia faithful.

The current seniors on this squad were just freshmen then, but it's taken this long for them to have a shot at a fitting revenge. Not much is at stake in this game other than pride, but finishing 5-5 would be a major, major achievement for first-year Head Coach Norries Wilson and this entire team of players, coaches and support staff. It would prove that they can succeed where so many other Lion teams have failed. And it would end the season on a tremendous high note in what would easily be their most impressive win of the year.

A Brief History of Misery

The 1971 "Kardiac Kid" Lions finished their season filled with nail-biter wins with an uncharacteristic easy 24-6 win over Brown at Brown Stadium. Columbia posted a 6-3 overall record that year, (5-2 Ivy), and finished second only to the Ed Marinaro-led Cornell Big Red who barely edged the Lions in Ithaca, 24-21. A weaker Columbia squad whipped the Bears again at Baker Field, 28-12, in 1972.

Then the changing of the guard took place. Columbia went from being able to rely on Brown as a perpetual punching bag and insurance against falling into the Ivy cellar to playing exactly the same role for the Bears. Columbia didn't beat Brown again until 1988, when the Lions won easily at home by a 31-13 score. Since then, Columbia has only defeated Brown twice more; a thrilling 34-28 win in 1992 and an even more thrilling 31-27 victory in 1996, both at Wien Stadium. Other memorable games at Wien in this era include the 1994 shocker where Brown racked up seven straight second half touchdown's to erase a 27-10 third quarter Lion lead and win 59-27.

Most of the games since 1971 in Providence have not been close. John Witkowski had a huge game in one of the rare close contests in 1983, as Brown held off Columbia by a 42-36 score. And Steve Hunsberger had a pass intercepted in the end zone in the final seconds of the 2002 game that ended with a 35-28 Bear win. The last time the Lions trekked to Brown was 2004, and the Bears overcame a strong performance by Columbia running back Rashad Biggers to win 33-21.

It's up to these Lions, particularly the freshmen and sophomores, to change things again. For most of the last 35 years, the final game of the season has meant absolutely nothing for a Columbia team that's enjoyed just two winning seasons since the day they beat Brown in Providence way back in November, 1971. If you looked up "playing out the string" in the dictionary, you could very well see a picture of the Columbia football team in late November. It's time to change the course of history, and the young players who dominate this Lion squad can fix things before they feel the pain of the problem in the first place.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Crowded Winner's Circle?

This year's Ivy race has been more muddled than any we've seen in the last 7-8 years or so. But after last week's games, I think the most likely result is Princeton will grab the title outright as the Tigers have a very winnable home game against Dartmouth, while Yale must travel to a hostile Harvard Stadium and try to beat the Crimson for the first time since 1999.

The 2006 Princeton Tigers are not the most dominant team I've ever seen, but they may be the most balanced. Every unit on this team is pretty strong, even if no one player is the best at his position. One exception is QB Jeff Terrell, who has quietly risen to the top of the Ivy quarterbacking corps and whose stellar play was really the difference in the thrilling wins over Harvard and Yale. I think Clifton Dawson will probably get the Bushnell Cup at the end of the season because of his monster stats and body of work over four years, but I'd give it to Terrell.

I was never much impressed by Tiger Head Coach Roger Hughes until last season, when Princeton's win over Harvard and second place finish earned him my respect. Now, Hughes has my admiration for putting an even better team on the field this season despite the loss of Jay McCareins and the entire starting offensive line to graduation. Princeton has defeated all the top teams in this league - Yale, Harvard, and Penn - and all in exciting fashion.

Thus, it would be a travesty if Princeton and Yale win this Saturday, because then the two teams would officially share the Ivy title. That's despite the fact that Princeton defeated Yale this past weekend on the Elis' home field. The Ivy League must start instituting a tiebreaker in football where the championship goes to the team that won the head-to-head game. But again, the most likely scenario is that Harvard and Princeton will win, giving the Tigers the championship and sending the Crimson and Yale into a second place tie.

The rest of the league seems headed for a logjam at the bottom. Penn seems like a good bet to beat Cornell and grab fourth place, but the Big Red have been strong at home and this game is in Ithaca. If Columbia beats Brown and Dartmouth loses to Princeton, then there will be a four-way tie for fifth. That would be a pretty nice ending from the Lions' point of view.

These scenarios are indicative of how much parity has returned to Ivy football. After what seems like 10 years of Harvard-Penn dominance, it was nice to see Brown grab a solo title last season, and now it looks like Princeton is having its season in the sun. Parity can get boring if it continues for long, but having the same two or three teams at the top every year is deadly for a sports league.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Columbia's Secret Weapon

My three-and-a-half year-old daughter Jordan took to the sidelines herself on Saturday to make sure the Lions beat Cornell. After her appearance, the Big Red never had a chance.

Check it out here:


Mirroring my MVP choice, the Ivy League office named Adam Brekke the Defensive Player of the Week today. They also gave freshman Justin Masorti his due; naming him Ivy League Rookie of the Week.

And here's an interesting tidbit from the's game notes for the Columbia-Brown season finale this coming Saturday:

"If Wilson’s squad can hold Brown to fewer than 25 points, the Lions will be the first team to hold all of its opponents under 25 AND not win the Ivy title since the 1985 Harvard Crimson ... Since then, five teams have done it and all have been League champions -- 1990 Dartmouth, 1994 Penn, 1995 Princeton, 1996 Dartmouth and 2002 Penn ... Those five teams have a combined record of 43-4-2 overall and 32-2-1 in Ivy play ... Holding every opponent below 25 is not easy, in fact, just nine of 241 Division I schools can make the claim [Appalachian State, Columbia, James Madison, LSU, Massachusetts, North Dakota State, Ohio State, San Diego and South Florida]."

Well, the amazing job the defense has done this year has not gone unnoticed. What a group of young men with a "never say die" attitude! Hopefully, the underclassmen will one day be rewarded with an Ivy title or at least one or two winning seasons.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Columbia-Cornell Full Analysis

Columbia 21 Cornell 14

Why Columbia Won

The offense and the defense worked together to get a lead and keep it for 60 minutes. Columbia started the game with a pass-heavy 77-yard drive for a touchdown that rewarded the defense before it even took the field. The other two Lion scores were set up directly by the defense, but Columbia's offense moved the ball well the entire game and never turned it over.

Why Cornell Lost

The Big Red forgot to bring a passing game. Cornell's defense and running attack was impressive throughout the contest, but they could not get anything going in the air. When they did try to pass, good things were just as likely to happen for Columbia as they were for the Big Red. Three interceptions sealed their fate.

Key Turning Points

1) With Columbia leading 7-0 late in the first quarter, Cornell faced a 2nd and nine from their own 16. Nate Ford's pass was intercepted by Adam Brekke at the Big Red 25 and Brekke then broke a ton of tackles to run it back for a touchdown.

2) With the score 14-7 Lions late in the second quarter, Cornell started to move the ball on its last possession of the half. The Big Red quickly went from their 21 to their 48 and had 16 seconds left to do more damage. But Columbia forced three straight incomplete passes and the seven-point halftime lead was preserved.

3) Cornell took the opening possession of the second half and began driving again. Siwula rushed three straight times to give the Big Red a 2nd and two at the Columbia 44. But the Columbia defense stiffened after that. Siwula's fourth straight carry went for only yard and then Nathan Ford fumbled the ball on 3rd and one. Cornell kept possession, but they had to punt it away.

4) In a similar sequence, Cornell's next possession began at their own 40, and after two straight Shane Kilcoyne runs and a Nate Ford scramble, the Big Red had a 1st and ten at the Lion 47. But two straight Kilcoyne runs after that netted just two yards, and on 3rd and eight, Matt Bashaw sacked Ford back to the Cornell 46. That led to another punt.

5) On the Cornell's third possession of the half, Big Red Coach Jim Knowles gave the ball to back-up QB Stephen Liuzza, who threw a pass on the first play that senior free safety Tad Crawford went very high in the air to pick off at the Cornell 33. One play later, Columbia's Craig Hormann found tight end Jamal Russell open on the west sideline and he rumbled into the end zone for a 21-7 Lion lead.

6) Early in the fourth, Cornell scored a touchdown to make it 21-14 and followed that with a beautiful on-side kick to take the ball at their own 47. The Big Red were cruising down the field until they got into the red zone. On 3rd and two from the Columbia 19, Phillip Mitchell and Darren Schmidt stuffed Siwula for no gain. Then on 4th and two, freshman Justin Masorti came in untouched from Ford's left and sacked him for an 11-yard loss, giving the Lions possession at their 30.

7) Columbia's offense actually went five yards backward on the ensuing series, but by running the ball three straight times, they forced the Big Red to burn their final two timeouts. That made Cornell need to beat the Lions on their own without any help from a turnover.

8) Cornell's freshman returning sensation, Bryan Walters brought the final Columbia punt all the way to the Lion 32, but the defense didn't let down. A Big Red illegal motion pushed the ball back to the 37 and on the next play, Drew Quinn intercepted Ford to end the game.

Columbia Positives

The offense got the job done. Jordan Davis rushed for 89 yards on 19 carries for 4.7 yards a rush. Craig Hormann had his best game of the season, going 14-of-20 for 187 yards, (a 9.35 yards per pass average), one touchdown and no interceptions or fumbles. Jamal Russell had only one catch, but he made it count, rumbling down the sideline for a 33-yard TD.

The defense had another game where the unit just wouldn't quit. Cornell had numerous chances to tie the game, but the "D" just wouldn't let it happen. The Big Red put up some impressive rushing totals, but the Lions shut them down on the ground in most of the key moments of the game. When the tried the pass, Cornell QB's only completed 11 passes, threw three interceptions and were sacked three times. Columbia's defense is now on a pace to give up less than 160 points for this entire season.

Overall, the win means a tremendous amount as it ends the Lions' 16-game Ivy League losing streak and puts the squad in a position to get a .500 overall won-lost record for the season. It also pretty much means 2006 will go down as a successful start for Norries Wilson and crew who have delivered four wins, and nine straight weeks of competitive football games for the Lion faithful.

Columbia Negatives

The offense had one or two chances to put the game away in the fourth quarter, but got bogged down by illegal motion and procedure penalties. The defense came through of course, but they had to make one or two more stops than they should have.

And while the defense was superb, it gave up too many yards on Cornell's delayed runs up the middle and quick runs to their right. If the Big Red passing game had any bite, Cornell may have won this game.

Columbia MVP

A lot of players can lay claim to the award this week. Craig Hormann played mistake-free ball. Jordan Davis had some huge runs. Tad Crawford led the team in tackles and had a key interception. And Justin Masorti's huge fourth quarter sack was completed earlier by a big first-down saving tackle. But I have to give the award to senior captain Adam Brekke. His interception return for a TD was a lesson in perseverance and perseverance is this four-year star's calling card.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Passing the Torch

Columbia 21 Cornell 14

Today's exciting Lion win was made possible by a nice mix of seniors and underclassmen heroes.

In the first half, senior Nick DeGasperis made some nice catches, and senior James Cobb ran for one-yard TD for a 7-0 Columbia lead.

Later, senior Adam Brekke made a nice interception, and then made an even nicer run for touchdown and 14-0 Lion lead.

In the third quarter, senior Tad Crawford went way up high to pick off a pass and set up the Lions' final score just one play later when junior QB Craig Hormann found fellow junior tight end Jamal Russell for a 33-yard touchdown pass.

And in the fourth quarter, the freshmen and sophomores made the big plays. First it was freshman linebacker Justin Masorti, with a first-down saving tackle early in the quarter and then a huge sack on a Cornell 4th and two later in the final frame.

On Cornell's last drive, it was sophomore Drew Quinn picking off a pass that sealed the victory!

The win ends Columbia's 16-game Ivy losing streak and puts their overall record this year at 4-5. The Lions finish their home schedule 4-2 at Wien Stadium.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Columbia-Cornell Keys

Columbia is a seven point underdog at home against Cornell tomorrow.

Since week one, the Lions success has depended on the offense. The defense has done its job week in and week out, and every Lion loss has been a direct result of the offense not being able to move and score.

Last week, the Lions actually moved the ball well against a strong Harvard defense on an enemy field. The only trouble was Columbia turned the ball over four times, and each turnover occurred in the midst of a promising drive.

Will the offense finally put all the pieces together this week? Cornell's defensive front line doesn't promise to be too accommodating. The Big Red hasn't surrendered too many rushing yards this season. But the pass defense has been erratic and that may play into Columbia's hands. The Lions passing game has been much more effective than the ground attack, and Columbia QB Craig Hormann does seem to be throwing more accurately lately. But to take advantage of the Cornell secondary, Hormann will need to spread the wealth by hitting wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs and generally using the whole field on every possession. An occasional draw play or reverse is going to be needed to keep the Big Red from simply dropping back into nickel and dime packages all day.

And again, I think inserting freshman QB M.A. Olawale into a few series would also serve to confuse the defense and give the Lions more options on the ground.

Jamal Russell emerged as an important target for the Lions last week at Harvard. I think he's a key to this game tomorrow as the Big Red defensive backs will be busy covering Austin Knowlin, Nick DeGasperis and company and won't be able to focus on a tight end. Similarly, if the Lions can set up some screens to Jordan Davis and Ray Rangel, the results could be incredible. Rangel has been getting a few screen passes coming his way over the last few weeks and he seems like he's on the verge of breaking one big.

On defense, I expect Columbia to face a steady diet of Cornell running plays from a variety of players. Columbia has had trouble stopping scrambling QB's this year, (and every year), and that could mean a lot of chances for QB Nate Ford. Starting tailback Luke Siwula will also probably get about 30 carries and backup QB Stephen Liuzza will also get into the mix. Of course, Big Red coach Jim Knowles could really cross the Lions up with a shift to the passing game, but that would be a big gamble. It's one thing to try to fool an opponent; it's another to force a bunch of young players to do something they really haven't tried all year.

Columbia and Cornell need to be more concerned with endurance issues. Over the last few weeks, the Lions defense has never given up, but opposing runners have been able to gain more yardage late in games as the defense does tire out somewhat. For Cornell, the big problem is second half let down and fatigue. The Big Red needs to take an early lead and thus, Columbia can make a huge statement by getting out in front early or even going into the half tied. Stuffing some Cornell runs early in the game would be huge for the Lions.

This is a tough game to predict because Cornell is such a different team on the road. If this game were in Ithaca, I'd give the Big Red a ten-point edge. Another "X factor" is the Columbia offense that seems very overdue for a better game, but you can never count on something like that. I do think this game could be decided by some special efforts from the seniors who will be playing their final game at Baker Field. I expect inspired play from Adam Brekke, Todd Abrams, Darren Schmidt, and Justin Nunez on defense. On offense, look for senior Wide receiver Nick DeGasperis to move Heaven and Earth to get into the end zone.

Prediction: Columbia 20 Cornell 17


Princeton +2.5 at Yale

I'm trying very hard not to let my emotions cloud my judgment here, but I'm still mad at Yale Coach Jack Siedlecki for calling a timeout with six seconds left against the Lions simply to score a tack-on touchdown. The Elis are a good team overall, but take away a couple of Bobby Abare interceptions for TD's the last two weeks and Yale might by 3-2 in the Ivies. Princeton's defense can shut down Mike McLeod and the Eli passing game isn't good enough to beat the Tigers. But Princeton still won't win if the offense doesn't start performing better, especially the running game. I'm going to say the offensive line will help the Tigers get it done tomorrow.

PREDICTION: Princeton 24 Yale 20

Harvard -6.5 at Pennsylvania

Penn is like a dangerous wounded animal right now after losing three straight overtime games. But Harvard has too much offense right now, and with Clifton Dawson so close to breaking the all-time Ivy League rushing record, there's no chance of a let down. On the other side of the ball, Penn QB Robert Irvin has not yet seen the kind of pass rush the Crimson have in store for him. This will be a thriller, but I like Harvard.

PREDICTION: Harvard 31 Penn 27

Brown -6.5 at Dartmouth

The Bears played pretty well against Yale last week and the Big Green is coming off a strong second half against Cornell. Brown seems like a prime upset victim after three straight weeks of playing very well, but Dartmouth just doesn't have the offensive weapons to take advantage.

PREDICTION: Brown 24 Dartmouth 17

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Saying Goodbye & Scouting Cornell

Saturday's game will be the last home contest for a group of Columbia seniors who have been to Hell and back. Obviously it would be very nice if they could be winners when they walk off Baker Field for the last time, but win or lose, these young men certainly have my admiration for what they've accomplished and endured.

Leading off this group is tri-captain linebacker Adam Brekke. Brekke's entire career has resembled a trial by fire. He was forced onto the starting lineup as a freshman in the middle of the 2003 season when then-captain Chris Carey went down with a concussion. But Brekke never played like a sub, and he's improved every year.

Then there's free safety Tad Crawford. When Columbia's defensive line was in a shambles during the 2004 and 2005 season, Tad consistently provided the last line of defense and led the team, (and the Ivies), in tackles. No, it's never good when someone in your secondary is leading the team in tackles, but Tad's efforts certainly made sure a lot of bad games didn't get any worse. He is an unsung hero.

Nose tackle Todd Abrams has been a leader on the defense. After three years as a linebacker, Abrams made the difficult switch to nose tackle for this season and he's having his best year ever. I'll miss him and his mom, who faithfully rings her cowbell from the stands every week.

You could argue that left tackle and tri-captain Matt Barsamian has had the toughest job of any of these seniors. He began last season as the only offensive lineman on the team with any game experience and he continues to be the leader of a unit that is under heavy fire week after week. Matt deserves our admiration for his heart more than anything else. I think he's going to be a big success in the financial world after he graduates.

Defensive lineman Darren Schmidt was a relatively quiet contributor during his first three seasons, but the new 3-5-3 defensive alignment has given him a major spot on the stage and he's made the most of it. Who knows what kind of career numbers he could have racked up if this group of defensive coaches had come down the pike sooner?

Spur linebacker Justin Nunez has been one of my favorites from day one. He was originally a walk-on, but he plays so hard that there's nothing second-rate about him. Nunez is a local neighborhood kid, who grew up going to Columbia games. I'm especially gratified to see him having such a great senior season.

Wide receiver Nick DeGasperis has always played hard and this season he's compiling the stats as well. DeGasperis starting out playing both football and baseball for the Lions, but he's focused on the gridiron alone since his junior year. I would very much like to see him get a touchdown before the end of this season.

I've written a lot in the past on the sacrifice offensive guard and tri-captain Uche Osadebe made in the off-season by switching from the defensive to the offensive line. Unfortunately, Uche's hasn't become the force the coaches hoped he would be, but is not due to any lack of effort on his part. This man is "team player" personified.

Wide receiver Adrian Demko has been a vocal team leader and strong player for four years, starting with his time on the junior varsity. Another wide receiver, James Besselman has contributed as well.

Daniel Palmer is another offensive lineman who made the switch from defense to help the team. He's been banged up a bit this year and the team has suffered for it. He will be missed.

The rest of the seniors are Calder Orr, Ben Schori, James Cobb, and Jeff Oke, (who can forget his super performance in the win at Fordham last season?). Thanks so much to all of you.


Big Green Alert maven Bruce Wood emailed yesterday and wanted to be sure I was aware of Cornell's tendency to gamble on defense which has led to some big plays for opposing teams.

Another overall weakness is Cornell's woes on the road. The Big Red really have been a different team away from Schoelkopf this season and Columbia will need to take advantage of that to win.

And like Columbia, this is a very young team. They're committing too many penalties and showing a lack of focus in second halves of games. But their 4-4 record is impressive when you realize how many underclassmen are starting right now. The running game led by Luke Siwula is the biggest reason why the Big Red aren't having the same kind of overall troubles the Lions are facing with their young squad.

But there aren't a lot of other major weaknesses to find on Jim Knowles' team. Cornell can run the ball very well and the passing game has an occasional bite. The defense is aggressive, and while that does lead to some big plays sometimes, most of the time it has worked.

This team is led by junior tailback Luke Siwula who is having another standout season. He has 740 rushing yards and a 4.6 yards-per-carry average. But he only has four touchdowns and his longest run of the year is just 29 yards. And Siwula has been shut down in a few games this season. He is a good back, but not as good as Harvard's Clifton Dawson or Yale's Mike McLeod. Columbia did not really let Dawson or McLeod beat them, and they must shut down Siwula to have a fighting chance.

Quarterback Nathan Ford is having a good season in his first year as a starter. But he's a far cry from the dangerous Ryan Kuhn, who ran and passed his opponents crazy last season. Ford throws the ball only about 20 times a game, and usually makes the most of his throws. But he does have just as many TD passes as interceptions, (seven), and his longest completion of the year has been for just 40 yards. He's a little more effective as a runner with 294 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

Bruce Wood also warned me about backup QB Stephen Liuzza, who ran for an 81-yard touchdown against Dartmouth last year and who Knowles likes to line up as a wide receiver to take advantage of his overall athleticism.

The offensive line is doing a great job this season, blocking nicely for Siwula and Ford and only giving up 13 sacks all year.

Cornell's wide receiving corps is not setting the world on fire. To be fair, two sophomores, Zac Canty and Jesse Baker are doing most of the work and they will get better over time. Canty is the team's leading receiver with 35 catches for 447 yards and two TD's.

The Big Red defense resembles the Lions "D" in that it's often in motion and gives opposing teams a lot of looks. But unlike Columbia, Cornell is giving up about 190 yards passing per game and most opposing QB's have looked better against them than they have against just about any other opponent.

Junior linebacker Ryan Blessing looks like the best defender on this squad. He has four sacks and 56 total tackles.

Junior Colin Nash is leading the secondary with three interceptions and six passes broken up.

But again, this is a young group that can be inconsistent. Columbia's offense could have a decent day if they catch the Big Red on a bad day.

On special teams, the Big Red are pretty solid. Kicker Peter Zell is a perfect 16-for-16 on extra points and nine-of-12 on field goals. Punt and kick returner Bryan Walters is a freshman and he's showing a lot of promise. Cornell's coverage teams have been excellent, the one stain being a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown they gave up to Clifton Dawson at Harvard.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

This is the Game

Partly cloudy skies with an incredible 65 degrees are predicted for this Saturday's Columbia-Cornell game at Baker Field.

Columbia football has undoubtedly made some nice improvements this year. The defense is aggressive and effective, and there are a few nice additions to the otherwise moribund offense like freshman Austin Knowlin.

But this team needs an Ivy win and this is the weekend to get it. Cornell is a good team overall, with a good defense and a strong running game, but the Big Red have been very weak on the road. (I'll have a complete scouting report on Cornell tomorrow).

The Lions have now lost 16 straight Ivy contests in a row. That's by far the longest losing streak anyone's suffered in Ivy football since THE STREAK; Columbia's 44-game overall losing streak from mid-1983 to mid-1988. This must stop, and it must stop now.

Columbia-Cornell: Recent History

None of Columbia's Ivy rivalries has been as evenly matched in the post streak era than the one with the Big Red. In the 18 games the Lions have played against Cornell since the end of the streak, the Big Red have won 10 and Columbia has won 8. In that time, no team has won more than two in a row, (Cornell is currently riding one of those two-game streaks), and 10 of the games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Last year's 45-7 win by the Big Red in Ithaca was one of the rare routs in the recent series.

My own memories of Columbia-Cornell are mostly good. The first full Columbia game I ever attended was the 1988 contest that began with a nice start for the Lions but ended in a 42-19 Big Red win on their way to a shared Ivy title, Cornell had to share the title with Penn despite beating them head-to-head a week after the Columbia game. (The first partial Columbia game I ever attended was a few weeks earlier when CU edged Princeton to end THE STREAK).

A year later, coach Ray Tellier picked up his first victory as a Columbia coach with a 25-19 win in Ithaca, (a game I did not attend, but listened to very closely on the radio in my dorm room).

The 1990 Columbia-Cornell game at Wien Stadium was one of the worst experiences of my life as a Lion fan. In a driving rainstorm that never ended, the Big Red stuffed Columbia 41-0. I was physically and emotionally drenched and drained. The only bright spot was the rain even scared the security guards away and I got to watch most of the game on the Columbia sideline undetected.

1991 was not much better. I traveled up to Ithaca to see the game and the Lions were robbed blind in a 28-21 loss. A late Columbia TD was called back by the officials who said the Lion QB crossed the line of scrimmage before he threw the ball. Replays showed he clearly did not. Apparently, the Cornell coaches screamed bloody murder after the ball was thrown and the refs relented for some reason.

I didn't get to another Columbia-Cornell game until 1998 at Baker Field. The Lions played a very nice game after a slow start in the first quarter and won 22-10.

The game in 2000 was another rough one, but filled with a lot of exciting moments. Jonathan Reese returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Columbia score a TD with less than three minutes to go to take a 31-28 lead. But a very short kickoff allowed the Big Red to march quickly down the field and take a 35-31 lead with less than a minute to go. A Jeff McCall to Doug Peck bomb put the ball inside the Cornell five, but time ran out.

The 2002 game was played in rough weather and another short kickoff and late Cornell TD not only lost the game for Columbia but also spelled the end of Ray Tellier's tenure as head coach.

I was enjoying the 2004 contest until Cornell pulled off a huge late comeback to erase a 26-14 fourth quarter Columbia lead and turn it into a 32-26 Big Red win.

I'm hoping to get some happier memories this Saturday.