Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Freshman Meets the Old Alum

A few weeks ago, the tirelessly innovative Bruce Wood of the Dartmouth football site Big Green Alert suggested I take a look at his amusing "optimistic vs. pessimist" columns and bring that over to Roar Lions Roar.

I decided to work in a variation of that idea by scripting an imaginary conversation between a young Columbia football fan, "the freshman," and an older long-time fan, "the old alum." I think this little literary construct might help fans get a handle on where the Columbia is, where it's been, and where it might be going.

Here goes...

The Freshman: Why are people so excited about a 5-5 season? Okay, I get that it's better than 0-10 or 2-8, but Columbia never even challenged for the Ivy title! What's the big deal?

The Old Alum: This is a big deal, kid. Columbia has had a grand total of 4 non-losing seasons in the last 40 years and this was one of them. If someone was hitting you on the head with a hammer 90% of the time, you'd be pretty happy during that 10% of the time when they stopped.

Here's another way to look at it: the Lions won 5 games this year. A lot of kids who have graduated Columbia since the 1970's watched the team for all four years and didn't see that many wins.

Hopefully by the time you've graduated, the 2006 season won't seem so special because you'll have experienced some winning seasons and Ivy titles by then... just don't count on it.

The Freshman: Okay, so this hasn't happened very often. But three of the five wins were against lousy opponents my high school team could have clobbered!

The Old Alum: Yes, the Lions had a weaker schedule than usual with six home games, two of them against lower-tier Patriot League teams and one against a team from the MAAC conference that's almost Division III, but that shouldn't take too much away from the shine of the season. First of all, the Patriot League used to dominate the Ivies, that trend started to turn around in the late 1990's, but winning games against a cross-town rival, (Fordham), and an academic powerhouse, (Georgetown), make you feel good. The win over the MAAC's Iona was a bit hollow, but at least it was a shutout and the defense earned some nice kudos.

One more word about strength of schedule: find someone from those Columbia teams that went 0-10 year after year and ask them if they would have cared if they snagged a win or two over a creampuff team. Better yet, ask some of the fans from that era and ask how much they would have cared. A win is a win, and wins have come in short supply at CU for this generation.

The Freshman: What's with the attendance at Baker Field? I went to most of the home games because I'm just a big football fan. But lots of the guys I sit and watch sports with on my floor at Carmen wouldn't be caught dead at a Columbia game. What's up with that?

The Old Alum: Good question, kid. Yes, we can understand why the angry, anti-establishment protester-type student doesn't show up to watch football games. But those friends of yours who don't show to Columbia games even though they have all the time in the world to watch some other games... well, I'm sorry to be the first to break it to you, but they're not real sports fans. They may like the idea of competition, and they may be in a bunch of fantasy leagues, but if the idea of actually watching live football isn't on their agenda, then they're probably just gamblers who happed to gamble on sports.

Anyone who goes to a fair number of Ivy football games knows you're going to see some sloppiness... maybe even a little more sloppiness than your typical Division I-A game. But you'll also see lots of incredible plays and you're a lot more likely to see a competitive ball game. About 60% of the games teams like Michigan and USC play will be decided by margins of 20-30 points. Most Ivy games are a lot more competitive and exciting than that.

That said, if the Lions start winning in the coming years, your friends will start to show up at games. They'll be welcome of course, but you'll take more than a little pride in knowing that you supported the team in the leaner years. The long-term fan has a serious advantage over the Johnny-Come-Lately's. Does anyone doubt how much sweeter the 2004 World Series was to long-time Boston Red Sox fans compared to folks who jumped on the bandwagon after Pedro Martinez joined the squad? Of course not.

The Freshman: What about the fact that the stadium is so far from campus. I took the free shuttle bus a few times, but there were some games where I had to take the subway... UPTOWN! My mommy told me that was dangerous.

The Old Alum: Okay first off, you're still calling her "mommy?!?" We'll get back to that later, but there's a good chance your "mommy" either a) hasn't ridden the subway in 25 years, or b) is a vicious racist. Either way, let me give you a little glimpse of your future. Within a year or two of graduation, you're either going to be working at a job that'll keep you cooped up inside for 10-12 hours or day, going to a job that requires you to sit in traffic for two hours each way, or both. So think a bit before you whine about a 15-minute subway ride or a 25-minute free bus trip. When I was an undergrad, I wanted to join the crew team but I balked because of those 6AM practices. Then I graduated and ended up working a graveyard shift in TV that required me to come into work at 2AM every day for seven years. What a dope I was in college!

The Freshman: Okay, I'm down with rooting for the team and going to games... but I'm still a little angry at the players. I mean to get into Columbia I had to work hard in high school. I got a 1600 on my SAT's, but I still haven't ever kissed a girl. Meanwhile, these jocks were the big men on campus in high school and they got into this school with much lower grades than I did. At least at Arizona State, the players and the non-jocks are all total idiots.

The Old Alum: When I was a Columbia student, I used to get a big kick out of how the average student in the college would rail against racism and hate in America in class and then hit the West End where they would make fun of the "dumb" football players, "stupid" Barnard students, and the "dumb and stupid" older kids in the General Studies program. I hope you realize what a hateful and just plain wrong thing it is to think that the football players or any athletes at Columbia are "dumb" or less qualified than you or anyone else. A lot of the kids on the football team could have been admitted even without playing a sport. There are something like 10 guys on the team this year who are pre-med, and with about 75 players total, that's a much higher percentage than the general student population.

For those who are on Morningside Heights mostly for their athletic talents, they get rewarded by facing the same rigorous courses you have to take. And added to that is a very rigorous practice and conditioning schedule that makes your orgo homework look like Sesame Street. There might be one or two professors at CU who give a little preference to the football players, but I doubt it. And even if there were, they probably are easy graders for everyone. There is no free ride.

The Freshman: Okay, but it's not like any of these guys are going to the NFL or anything.

The Old Alum: Columbia currently has three former football players on active NFL rosters. That includes a former All-Pro, Marcellus Wiley '97. But why should that matter? Do you turn down dates from beautiful women who aren't quite good enough to make it into Playboy? I didn't think so. Besides, there are a couple of players on the team right now who could make the jump into the pros. If he can improve his consistency, Jon Rocholl has a great shot at the NFL. If freshman and current Ivy League Rookie of the Year Austin Knowlin improves a little each year, he might be playing on Sundays in the future too.

The Freshman: One thing I am excited about is Coach Norries Wilson. He's the Messiah.

The Old Alum: Okay, hold on there fella. Right now, I think Norries is great too, but after his first season, I also loved Bob Shoop. Then he turned out to be a total disaster. The jury is still out on Wilson and nobody knows that better than he does. At this point, he's still mostly working with Shoop's players, so his biggest contribution was installing a new assistant coaching staff. If anyone is the Messiah, it's defensive coordinator Lou Ferrari. But old Lou has been here before and knew what he was getting into. He was an assistant on the 0-10 1985 team. His decision to come back to CU was something like Jesus agreeing to get crucified. But he took a chance and was rewarded for it.

The Freshman: Will Columbia win an Ivy title before I graduate?

The Old Alum: The odds are always against us, but we've never had such a competitive team that was also very young. They didn't even let freshmen play football in this league until 1994, so the idea of cultivating talent on the starting lineup over four seasons is still somewhat new to everybody. If you really want to see a title winner, get out to those games and cheer your head off. You just might impress the blue chip high school recruit who's sitting next to you with his mommy er, parents.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Pantheon... Updated

Every once in a while I like to tweak my list of the top 10 Columbia football games of the last 20 years. Sadly, the entire 2004 and 2005 seasons offered no games that remotely had a chance to break into that list. But 2006 produced not only a contender, but a bonafied new entry for the top 10.

And so, now I give the Top 10 Columbia Football Games 1986-2006:

10) 2000: Columbia 49 Dartmouth 21

This was the final win of what started out as a promising season for the Lions. But what a win it was. A big homecoming crowd saw Johnathan Reese tear up the Columbia record book, breaking the single game rushing record with 236 yards, breaking the single season rushing record by finishing the game with 966 on the season, and coming just two yards shy of breaking the career rushing record, (which he broke the next week at Yale). Reese broke all those records on ONE PLAY; a long TD run in the third quarter. He finished the day with four touchdowns. You can read the Columbia alumni magazine's excellent feature on that game here: Columbia College Today

9) 1998: Columbia 24 Harvard 0

After three straight rainy homecoming games, the Lions tried something a little different in 1998 by scheduling homecoming for the season opener against Harvard. Then they went on to shutout the defending Ivy champs. The Crimson never really threatened to score. The game meant so much not only because it was an extremely rare rout, but because it set the tone for what was a relatively strong and exciting season for Columbia. Ultimately, the team finished 4-6 but almost every game was extremely exciting.

8) 1998: Columbia 24 Dartmouth 14

Columbia has suffered through a lot of losing streaks over the years. One of the most remarkable was the team's inability to do anything against the Dartmouth Big Green for a generation. From 1971 through 1997, the Lions never beat Dartmouth even once, (they had one tie in 1983). And from 1946 through 1996, Columbia never beat the Big Green at Memorial Field up in Hanover. That finally came to an end in 1998 with the 24-14 win. This would be the start of a more pleasant, if not as impressive streak for the Lions as they would go on to win three more games in a row against Dartmouth until the Big Green edged them at Baker Field in 2002.

7) 2006: Columbia 22 Brown 21 (new entry)

This game had it all. After falling behind 14-0 and looking totally flat, the Lions came to life. But the most important and history-making aspect of the game was the final drive that led to the winning field goal with three seconds left. The win clinched Columbia's first non-losing season in 10 years and was the Lions first win at Brown since 1971.

6) 2003: Columbia 33 Princeton 27

This win ended another epic streak as the Lions defeated the Tigers in Princeton for the first time since 1945. And they did it in the most dramatic fashion possible. Trailing 20-0, Columbia ran off 27 straight points before Princeton tied it with a late TD at 27-27. With time for just two plays after the ensuing kickoff, the Lions threw a short pass to put them just shy of midfield and set themselves up for one last throw. The resulting Hail Mary by Jeff Otis was caught in a crowd by tight end Wade Fletcher and the win was sealed.

5) 1995: Columbia 28 Harvard 24

In 1975, the Ivy League schedule changed and the Lions would begin their season against the Crimson for the next quarter century. Until this game at Harvard Stadium, Columbia had been forced to start every season with a loss except for 1978. This exciting win featured a Lion punt return for a TD and the shaking off of years of pain in Cambridge.

4) 1996: Columbia 20 Pennsylvania 19 (OT)

It seemed like the magical 1996 season had a miracle win every week. But this game against Penn at Franklin Field was really the most incredible. Penn jumped out to a 10-0 lead, then the Lions managed to fight back to force a 13-13 tie at the end of regulation. The Quakers easily scored in their overtime possession, but missed the extra point. It didn't look like that miss would matter though as the Lions faced a 4th down and 10 before they completed a TD pass in traffic to set up the winning PAT. It was Columbia's first win at Penn since 1976 and it gave the Lions a 4-0 record on the season. I'll never forget the looks on the Penn players as they rolled on the turf in emotional agony at the end of that game.

3) 1995: Columbia 24 Pennsylvania 14

Penn came into this game at Wien Stadium with the longest winning streak in the nation. Mike Cavanaugh and the Lions took care of that. These were the heady days of 1995 before Cavanaugh's season and career ended with his broken leg at Princeton. Of all those pre-injury games, this was the most exciting and important.

2) 1994: Columbia 38 Cornell 33

The Lions clinched their first winning season since 1971 with this back-and-forth offensive juggernaut of a game at Baker Field. Many of the fans in stands that day had thought they would never see another winning season in the lifetimes.

1) 1988: Columbia 16 Princeton 13

A big part of me wishes this game wasn't so important anymore, but the ending of a five-year, nationally-covered losing streak is hard to ignore. Princeton came into the 1988 season as the favorite to win the Ivy title. But a great rushing performance by Solomon Johnson and Greg Abbruzzese and a big day for the defense sealed the win. I was a freshman at Columbia in 1988, but since my sister was a senior, I fully knew how important and long-awaited the victory was. The unmitigated joy just about everyone on campus and in the neighborhood showed that day was unforgettable.


Since some of my summaries of these games are woefully inadequate, below you can read some of the newspapers reports of the contests. Enjoy!

(#10: See CCT Link above)

#9 Columbia 24 Harvard 0

(from the Harvard Crimson)

Lions Turn Tables on Harvard
21 September 1998

By BRYAN LEE, Harvard Crimson

NEW YORK -- Columbia's Lawrence A. Wien Stadium is in a rough neighborhood. Fittingly, when the Harvard football team visited Saturday, it was mugged, 24-0.

Columbia (1-0, 1-0 Ivy) copied Harvard's (0-1, 0-1 Ivy) eight-man attacking defensive scheme over the offseason, and the result made Columbia Coach Ray Tellier look like a genius. In fact, Columbia's defense resembled Harvard's championship defense of a year ago.

"We got beat up in the trenches," Harvard Coach Tim Murphy said. "Last year that was our strength--the ability, toughness, and leadership in the trenches."

The Lions became the first team in 32 games to shut out Harvard, limiting the Crimson to 169 total yards and forcing four turnovers. Columbia's front four blew the Crimson's offensive line off the line of scrimmage and seemed to spend most of Saturday afternoon in the backfield. At halftime, Harvard had gained only 58 yards on 20 plays and had only three first downs to show for 30 minutes of work.

"I hate to steal Ray Tellier's line from last year, but at least no one got killed," said Murphy, referring to Tellier's quote after Harvard's 45-7 win. "We got our butts kicked, and that starts with the head coach. They were just bigger, stronger, and tougher on this day."

Columbia put enormous pressure on Harvard junior quarterback Rich Linden, who was sacked three times and was hurried and knocked down several more times. Harvard's offensive showing was a far cry from the one in last season's opener, and Linden could only complete 10-of-17 passes for 60 yards.

"We just got outplayed in every facet of the game today," Linden said. "They just brought the heat. We've played games like that before, played against good defensive lines. I think it was kind of a case where when we could get protection, we couldn't get guys open or we made bad decisions, and when we had guys open, we didn't have that extra step to throw the ball."

The inability of Harvard's passing game to get untracked was even more surprising because of the inexperience of Columbia's secondary, which returned only one starter from last year. And that starter, Chris Tillotson, was suspended from Saturday's game for violating unspecified team rules. Harvard was unable to exploit the weakness.

"I don't think we got a lot of a chance to take advantage of their secondary because they got consistently good pressure on us," Murphy said. "With their outside linebackers blitzing and [defensive end] Rashaan Curry having an excellent day, I'm not sure we got as good a chance to test their young secondary."

Harvard's running was just as ineffective as its passing, and Columbia's defensive line penetration created eight tackles for loss. Junior running back Chris Menick averaged 126.7 yards per game last year but gained only 37 yards on 13 attempts.

Columbia's offense enjoyed a 35:41 to 24:19 advantage in time of possession but had almost twice as much possession as Harvard in the first half. Columbia's offensive line dominated Harvard's inexperienced defensive line, opening up holes for a two-running back attack that produced 196 yards rushing.

Junior tailback Norman Hayes was the ram that wore down Harvard's defense, which tired because of the Lions' advantage in possession and the 75 degree heat reflecting off the artificial turf surface. Hayes carried 22 times for 65 yards and one touchdown, and freshman Johnathan Reese carried 11 times for 78 yards.

"Wow, who the heck is that?" Murphy asked of Reese. "We're still asking ourselves that."

Columbia got in front in the first quarter with an 11-play drive that went 53 yards in 4:58. The drive began after junior punter Mike Giampaolo's effort went only 39 yards with a 28-yard net. Giampaolo would be forced to leave after the play because he pulled a muscle during pre-game warmups.

During the series, the Lions introduced a new look on offense with former running back Jason Bivens playing option quarterback from a wishbone set. Columbia used the wishbone on two series during the drive, including Bivens' one-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal with just under seven minutes left in the first quarter. The rushing touchdown was the first Harvard's defense had allowed in league play since 1996.

Junior Jonathan Patton replaced Giampaolo as punter, and his eight punts averaged only 31.3 yards. After a 31-yard Patton punt, Columbia took over with 9:07 left in the first half at its own 37. Fourteen plays and 44 yards later--hardly an impressive average--Columbia's Neal Kravitz booted a 36-yard field goal.

The scoring drive lasted 8:02 and was typical of Columbia's possessions. Although the Lions did not break many big plays, they faced 17 third-down conversion opportunities, which demonstrates how many offensive plays they ran.

However, when Columbia salted the game away in the third quarter, it was with two quick drives. The Lions drove 61 yards in only four plays and 1:36, ending when quarterback Paris Childress rolled left and found a wide-open Mark Cannan at the 5-yard line. Cannan walked in for the touchdown when senior free safety Derek Yankoff rushed forward at Childress instead of dropping back.

Linden's second interception, a pass intended for sophomore Josh Wilske that went straight to Columbia linebacker Paul Roland, set up the last score of the day. Roland returned the ball 35 yards to Harvard's 1-yard line, and Hayes punched the ball in on the next play for the final score.

The symbol of Harvard's frustration might have come in the fourth quarter, when Columbia punter Ryan Kiernan's punt rolled 40 yards despite being partially blocked by linebacker Clint Kollar. When Harvard took over at its own 45-yard line, it committed holding penalties on consecutive plays, resulting in a first-and-40 situation. Sloppiness was just another one of Harvard's problems, as the Crimson committed eight penalties for 70 yards.

Next week, Harvard travels to Colgate, which may be the toughest team on Harvard's schedule. If the Crimson offensive and defensive lines do not improve their performances next week, Harvard faces the unwelcome possibility of being 0-2 and resembling the 1994-96 teams that were 10-20 more closely than the 1997 team that was 9-1.

"We go from the proverbial frying pan into the fire," Murphy said. "We'd better be ready to strap it on."

#8: 1998 Columbia 24 Dartmouth 14

(from the Columbia Spectator)

Columbia rolls past Dartmouth, breaks several streaks

9 November 1998

By Jin Chun , Columbia Daily Spectator

NEW YORK, N.Y -- To say Tellier & Co. finally got rid of a monkey off their collective backs by beating Dartmouth would capture only the general idea of who benefited from Saturday's 24-14 win at Memorial Field. One must replace small primate with, say, an elephant or, possibly, a blue whale in order to frame a more accurate picture.

The numbers paint a hideously lopsided rivalry not in Columbia's favor.

The Big Green had not lost to the Lions since 1971 (25-0-1) and had not lost at Hanover since 1946, going 25-0 over that dark period. And just for emphasis, I remind all that World War II ended a mere 53 years ago in November 1945.

Head Coach Ray Tellier, also relieved that the team ended a four-game losing streak, spoke volumes for his team and fans alike with one succinct statement:

"It's been a long-ass time," he said.

In retrospect, were there any premonitions for a Columbia victory?

Senior Paris Childress' right ankle, broken playing Saint Mary's back in game three, was finally healthy enough to start at quarterback. But that was offset by the absence of first-year tailback Johnathan Reese, inactive with bruised shoulders. And senior Co-Captain Jeremy Taylor, on defense a s the starting middle linebacker, was already lost for the season with an ACL injury suffered in a special teams play versus Yale two weeks earlier.

The day was cold and crisp, though mildly so for New Hampshire this late in the year. The sunshine seemed to peek through the clouds only when the Light Blue made a fine play. Wait a minute, paranoia shouldn't take effect after victory. But, especially in the midst of a mostly frustrating 3-5 season, who really believes this still isn't all a dream?

The current crop of seniors will not be able to fulfill their primary goal of winning Columbia's first Ivy League championship since their co-championship with Harvard in 1961, but their achievements are tangible through other measures.

"I know the seniors took special pride in [winning today] because I think we've beaten every team in the Ivy league now and that's something you really want to take pride in," senior co-captain Bert Bondi said.

Bondi makes no small point because the class of 1998 will indeed be the first since the class of 1971 to have defeated every Ivy League institution on the gridiron within their tenure.

Columbia's offense ran with uncanny efficiency during the first half gaining 7.8 yards per play behind Childress, who was playing the game of his life. Childress completed 14 of 18 passing attempts to seven separate receivers for 210 yards, including two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Columbia's 7-0 lead heading into the second quarter was thought to be in jeopardy simply because of its poor play in that quarter all season. Instead Columbia improved their lead to 21-0 by halftime.

Childress first connected on a short screen pass over the middle to split end David Holmes, who eluded Dartmouth defenders with his speed and determination, for a 16-yard touchdown reception. And with just 33 seconds remaining in the half, Childress found two-way player Chris Tillotson running a quick slant from the right slot for a 12-yard touchdown catch.

Most of the successful passing was a product of a successful running game with Norman Hayes or Kirby Mack either running through big holes up the middle or sweeping around a sealed in defense. Quick outs and play-action passing were, therefore, usable during the course of the game, and that, of course, made all the difference.

With the rare luxury of playing with a big lead, Tellier could have grinded out the rest of the game from the ground, but he continued to employ a balanced mix of both the run and the pass that continued to vex Dartmouth's defense, although Columbia produced only three more points.

It wouldn't matter because Columbia's extensive drives on offense prevented its defense from being overused. The 306 yards Dartmouth gained on offense was mostly the product of a few big gains. In reality, four lost fumbles, one interception, eight sacks and a handful of dropped passes more accurately portrayed Dartmouth's struggles against the Lion's defense.

The victory, may indicate that Columbia is better than its record reflects. However, the Lions still need to stick it to a struggling Cornell and shut down a Brown offense that has recently rediscovered its potent attack. If so, the class of 1998 will finish 15-14-1, not too bad.

#7: 2006 Columbia 22 Brown 21

(See this blog's November archives for the full account)

#6: 2003 Columbia 33 Princeton 27

Princeton loses to Columbia on Hail Mary

6 October 2003

By Thad Hartmann, The Daily Princetonian

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Five seconds left on the clock. Princeton and Columbia knotted at 27-27. Columbia has the ball on the Princeton 49-yard line. Everybody in the stadium knew what was coming: The Hail Mary.

Columbia (2-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy League) quarterback Jeff Otis scrambled behind the line of scrimmage. He had trips right, every receiver racing to the end zone. Princeton (0-3, 0-1) countered with seven defensive backs, including junior receiver B.J. Szymanski.

Otis unleashed a spiraling ball toward the mass of players. Szymanski was behind Columbia's 6-foot-6 tight end Wade Fletcher. The 6-foot-5 Szymanski tried unsuccessfully to knock the ball away from behind, and Fletcher grabbed it and fell to the ground with the game-winning touchdown as the Lions pulled out the 33-27 win.

Momentum had looked all on the side of Princeton before that throw. The Tigers were down 27-20 with 8:41 left in the game just the drive before. They had given up 27 straight points, but stormed back with a 16-play, 66-yard, 8:15 drive to tie the game and presumably send it to overtime, since it left only 26 seconds on the clock.

Junior quarterback Matt Verbit and junior running back Jon Veach provided the offense in all but one play of the drive, which saw two fourth-down conversions -- including the 1-yard touchdown run from junior running back Branden Benson -- and the demoralization of the Columbia defense.

"That was a little disheartening to see that happen," Columbia head coach Bob Shoop said. "It was a deceptive drive. There weren't a whole lot of big plays. They just nibbled at us."

Even this monumental drive, which left Columbia only 26 seconds to put the ball in the end zone, should not have been necessary.

Princeton came out of the tunnel onto the field like a team that was going to have fun. They joked around in pre-game more than in the last two games and looked calm and confident.

The Tigers' offense started a little jittery, though, going three-and-out on its first possession. Still, the Princeton defense gave the team a boost on Columbia's first drive, which did not gain a yard.

Princeton gained 9 yards on its first play of the next drive, but on second down the Tigers were whistled for holding and a personal foul penalty after the play, resulting in a loss of 25 yards. Undaunted, Veach ran for 10 yards on second and 26.

The third down that came up next set the tone for the first quarter. Verbit scrambled out of the pocket, pulled up and threw a strike to Szymanski. Szymanski's defender dove in front of him, trying to knock the ball down -- but missed -- and Szymanski finished the play by running 71 yards into the end zone.

The following drives followed the same pattern. Columbia went three-and-out on its next two drives, and Princeton scored touchdowns on its next two.

When the horn blared for the end of the first quarter, the spell wore off for the Tigers and the Lions woke up.


Columbia kicked two field goals and scored a touchdown on its next three possessions. The touchdown was set up by a 57-yard punt return by Travis Chmelka. Princeton, on the other hand, got only one first down and a missed field goal on its next three drives.

"It's good we gave up 20 points early," Shoop said. "It was like a game of runs in a basketball game."

At halftime, Columbia had hoisted itself right back into the game, down only a touchdown at 20-13.

In the first half, Veach and Benson had pounded through or bounced around Columbia defenders. Together, they averaged over 7 yards per carry. They shared the load all night as each carried the ball 17 times. Benson rushed for 102 yards and Veach had 99. The passing game was just as effective on the stat sheet, with Verbit going 13-for-24 for 212 yards.

Despite those great numbers, Princeton could get no new ones on the scoreboard in the third quarter, just like in the second.

The Tigers could have broken Columbia's backs on its first drive of the third quarter (one of only two thanks to Columbia's ball-controlling attack). Princeton moved the ball from its own 20-yard line all the way to the Lions' 22.

Benson rushed for 44 yards on the drive, but his last two runs yielded nothing. They were on third-and-one and fourth-and-one at Columbia's 22, and they ended Princeton's chances to close out the game. The Lions followed up the drive with another field goal.

On its next drive, Columbia went 75 yards but settled for a field goal after a goal-line stand. Columbia kicker Nick Rudd scored a school-record 13 points in the game.

Columbia recovered a Verbit fumble at Princeton's 28 only three plays later. The Lions went up 27-20 after a touchdown and two-point conversion, setting up Princeton's final drive, followed by the Hail Mary.

Columbia started the game slowly, but once they got rolling they kept putting points on the board a few at a time, sealing the fate of the streaky Tigers.

Shoop summed up the mentality of his team, which has had a complete turnaround from last season's 1-9 squad.

"We play to win. We don't play not to lose."

#5: 1995 Columbia 28 Harvard 24

Harvard Falls in Ppener Columbia Prevails Late in Shocker

(From the Boston Globe)

Sixteen years of frustration at the hands of the Harvard University football team ended in dramatic fashion yesterday at Harvard Stadium when Columbia halfback John Harper vaulted over the goal line with 19 seconds left to play, then was smothered by his teammates, who had just come back from what seemed to be a crushing interception and score by Harvard with just over four minutes to play.

Harper's short run, which gave Columbia a 28-24 victory before a crowd of 8,101 on opening day for both teams, was made possible by quarterback Mike Cavanaugh, who engineered the 80-yard, 24-play drive that brought the Lions roaring back on an afternoon of firsts for Columbia.

It was the first Columbia victory over Harvard since 1978 and the first time in their 54-game rivalry that a Columbia player had run back a punt for a touchdown against the Crimson. Sophomore Roy Hanks did that with 15 seconds remaining in the first half to give the visitors a 21-17 lead.

"I felt we were in exactly the same position Columbia was in last year in those last four minutes," said Harvard junior linebacker Justin Frantz, referring to Harvard's similar come-from-behind effort on the road last season when QB Vin Ferrara scored with 21 seconds to play in a 39-32 game. "You have to give a lot of credit to Cavanaugh for their comeback."

Cavanaugh (20 rushes for 68 yards and 13 of 23 passing for 127 more) said his teammates didn't panic after Harvard scored on Kweli Thompson's 1-yard run with 4:12 remaining for a 24-21 lead. The TD was set up by Harvard end Chris Smith. He batted a Cavanaugh pass into the air that was picked off by safety Dave Pazden, who ran 25 yards to the Columbia 27. Harvard hit paydirt four plays later.

Cavanaugh, the senior co-captain, made all the big plays after that, starting with a scramble and first down to the Harvard 36 with 2:59 to go. Faced with a third-and-7 situation, he then hit Chris Valvo over the middle for 5 yards to the 28.

So it was time out, Columbia, fourth and 2, 1:55 remaining -- and no timeouts. Cavanaugh swept right on the game's biggest play to that point and dove to the Harvard 24 for a first down. A Harper 10-yard run after another key first down burst by Cavanaugh put the ball on the 1, from where Columbia ended its long drought.

"We were fortunate to be ahead at halftime," said Columbia coach Ray Tellier, referring to his team's comeback from a 17-7 deficit with two TD's in the final minute of the first half, spiced by Hanks' punt return that was Columbia's first for a score since the 1979 season. "Then, when the chips were down late in the game, we came back again."

Harvard coach Tim Murphy believed that special team breakdown was one of the game's biggest plays -- but not the deciding factor.

Harvard had one last gasp as Ferrara (15 for 30, 190 yards but only 5 for 16 in the second half) lofted a pass into the end zone that was just out of the reach of the well-covered Mark Drakos as time expired.

"Other than the outcome it was a great college football game," said Murphy, who got great performances from tailback Eion Hu (22 rushes, 92 yards), Frantz (17 tackles, one sack) and free safety Kevin Dwan (10 tackles, one sack). "If someone had told me that we would play our first game with no turnovers and just one penalty {they also had a delay of game at the opening kickoff} I would have said great, there's no way we could lose."

#4: Columbia 20 Pennsylvania 19 (OT)

13 October 1996
The New York Times

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 12 -- Columbia just keeps turning back the clock.

After missing a chance to win in regulation time when Matt Linit's field goal attempt was blocked with 22 seconds remaining, the Lions scored on their first possession of overtime today and Linit hit the extra point for a 20-19 victory over Pennsylvania. Columbia, off to its best start in half a century, is now 4-0 for the first time in 51 years.

The come-from-behind triumph also gave the Lions four victories in a season for only the second time in 25 years, and their first victory at Franklin Field in 20 years.

After Jason Lebron blocked Linit's 36-yard field goal attempt and the game ended in a 13-13 tie in regulation, Columbia opted to take the ball second in overtime. The Quakers quickly took advantage when the reserve quarterback Tom MacLeod passed to Penn's outstanding wide receiver Mark Fabish at the 1-yard line and tailback Jasen Scott plunged in for a touchdown. But the extra-point attempt by Jeremiah Greathouse, who had kicked two long field goals, was blocked by the Lion senior tackle Brett Bryant to make it 19-13, Penn.

But these Lions are resilient, not to mention perhaps the most talented Columbia team in years. And they knew they needed a touchdown and conversion on the ensuing possession to win the game and preserve their unbeaten season.

Going for a quick scoring strike, the Columbia backup quarterback, Paris Childress, who had been intercepted three times, missed on his first two passes. But his third, a bullet pass down the middle, hit Dennis Lee at the 2-yard line and the senior flanker bolted into the end zone with the tying touchdown. Then Linit, who kicked two field goals in this turnover-marred, penalty-plagued game, put his extra-point kick through the uprights to give Columbia the victory.

Penn, whose Division I-AA record 24-game winning streak was snapped by Columbia last year, fell to 2-2 and, more significant, 0-2 in the Ivy League. The Lions are now 2-0 in the Ivy.

Why did Columbia elect to throw in overtime when its best offensive threat is Jason Bivens, the 5-foot-7-inch sophomore tailback who ran 35 times for 94 yards this afternoon?

''I was concerned because we weren't running the football and we needed 6 points,'' Columbia Coach Ray Tellier said. ''I felt we had to throw it. Fortunately we came up with the right way.''

Penn Coach Al Bagnoli gave plaudits to the Columbia defense for breaking through on Greathouse's conversion attempt in overtime. ''Jeremiah never had a chance,'' Bagnoli said. ''There were probably three guys in there beating down after the snap.''

Though surely not one of the best-played, this had to be one of the most dramatic games contested by these schools in a rivalry that began in 1878. Four of the six scores in regulation followed turnovers. One of Childress's interceptions was run back 93 yards for a touchdown by the Penn sophomore linebacker Joseph Piela of Fair Lawn, N.J., who also had another interception.

Columbia dominated the game, particularly during the early going, leading in virtually every statistical department. But time and again drives were negated by interceptions thrown by Childress, a sophomore playing in only his second varsity game. The starter, Bobby Thomason, is recovering from a broken right thumb.

But those interceptions were forgotten after Childress's heroics in overtime.

Childress connected on 14 of 23 passes for 197 yards. That surpassed the efforts of Penn's two quarterbacks, Steve Teodeki, who hit on 1 of 3 passes before leaving the game with a shoulder injury early in the second quarter, and MacLeod, who completed 13 of his 26 throws. But on MacLeod's only interception, Columbia free safety Chris Tillotson ran 48 yards back to the Penn 1 in the second quarter. That led to the Lions' only touchdown in regulation, a 1-yard plunge by Marcellus Wiley, the 6-foot-5-inch, 255-pound defensive end who fills in as a fullback on short-yardage situations and who had three touchdowns against Holy Cross last Saturday.

The touchdown by Wiley, who also batted down three passes by MacLeod, tied it at 10-10.

Greathouse's second field goal, from 40 yards out with 6 seconds left in the first half, gave the Quakers a 13-10 lead.

Linit tied it again, at 13-13, with 8 minutes 56 seconds left in regulation with a 44-yard field goal. And the sophomore had a chance to win it for Columbia in regulation, but his field goal attempt from 43 yards out was deflected by defensive end Roger Beckwith.

#3: 1995 Columbia 24 Pennsylvania 14

Lions Thrill To Reversal Of Fortune
8 October 1995
The New York Times

In the long history of Columbia football, which began in 1875 under Coach Stuyvesant Fish, there have been glorious moments. Start with the 1934 upset of Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Add the 21-20 upset of Army in 1947, ending the Cadets' 32-game unbeaten streak.

"I think this one ranks right up there," said Ray Tellier, the Columbia coach, "one of our best all-time wins."

"This one" was yesterday's 24-14 upset of Penn. It ended the Quakers' 24-game winning streak, the longest current streak in college football and the longest in the history of Division I-AA. It also ended their 17-game winning streak in the Ivy League, the longest in that august company.

Al Bagnoli, the Penn coach, said the loss was inevitable.

"The streak can't go on forever," he said. "It ended against a good team."

Whether Columbia is a good team remains open for debate. But on an overcast, drizzly afternoon at Wien Stadium, the Lions outplayed the Quakers. While Penn had the edge in yards (441 to 292), first downs (24 to 18), time of possession (32 minutes 9 seconds to 27:51) and sacks (5 to 4), it also had more turnovers.

The Quakers were picked off twice by Joe Cormier, Columbia's free safety, and they fumbled the ball away once. Every mistake was costly.

The first interception staked Columbia to a 7-0 lead. The touchdown, on Mike Cavanaugh's 34-yard keeper, was made possible when his defender overplayed him to the outside and allowed the quarterback to cut inside -- with no Quakers in sight.

Midway through the third quarter, Columbia took the lead for good on Roy Hanks's 39-yard punt return. Early in the fourth quarter, Penn moved to the Lions' 34-yard line. On second down, Mark DeRosa, the Penn quarterback, was sacked for 7 yards. On third down, he was sacked for 12 more yards and fumbled. Eric Keck recovered for Columbia on Penn's 47.

Three minutes later, Columbia scored an insurance touchdown on Cavanaugh's 2-yard sprint around right end. And three plays after that, Cormier intercepted again.

"We were in a Robber defense," Cormier said. "That's when the safety isn't playing deep. He just reads the quarterback's eyes. That's what I did."

Bagnoli talked of those turnovers, Penn's penalties and Columbia's big plays.

"If you keep making those," he said, "you're not going to have enough firepower to overcome them. They made the plays. The better team won."

DeRosa felt the same way.

"We have nothing to be ashamed of," said the Penn quarterback.

After the last interception, Penn was done. There was gloom on its bench, ecstasy and noise on the Columbia sideline.

Minutes later, when the final gun sounded, some of the younger members of the crowd of 7,380 raced onto the field and up to the goal posts. They didn't seem quite sure what to do. Security people told them what to do -- get off the field. They did, but happily, and they cheered and sang for an hour before finally going home.

Penn hadn't lost since the 1992 season. It finished 10-0 in 1993 and 9-0 in 1994, and it was 3-0 going into today's game. But this is not the Penn powerhouse of old.

These Quakers had to overcome a 12-3 halftime deficit to beat Dartmouth, 20-12. They beat Lafayette, 28-8, despite three second-half interceptions. They nipped Bucknell, 20-19, on a field goal with 27 seconds left. Penn was winning, but not elegantly, and it was only an 8-point favorite here over a Columbia team that took the field with a 1-1-1 record.

"Penn doesn't blow out a lot of people," Tellier said after the game. "They're not Nebraska or Florida State. They've been winning by 7 or 10 points."

Penn didn't win here, partly because Columbia played with so much heart. That was especially sweet for a coach who, after his team lost to St. Mary's two weeks ago, said his players lacked emotion.

"Today was the best effort I've seen in many years of coaching," Tellier said. "Last year, for the first time in two and a half decades, we won more games than we lost. Hopefully, this win will have a positive effect."

Rory Wilfork, the middle linebacker and one of Columbia's three captains, said the locker room was rippling with excitement even before the game started.

"It helped that we were playing Penn," he said. "Before, we were playing to the level of our opponents. Today, we played above that."

One highlight (or lowlight) in Columbia's quarter century of ineptitude was a 44-game losing streak in the 1980's. But this Columbia team is different. Much different.

"When we went up 24-14," Wilfork said, "we said it was our game. And they started arguing among themselves. Things like 'Come on, get your man,' and 'We can't let them get pressure on us' and 'It's your fault.' "

When Tellier heard that, he smiled.

"It's the same thing we do," the winning coach said.

But not this time. EXTRA POINTS

Penn's touchdowns came on MARK DeROSA's passes of 39 yards to FELIX ROUSE and 40 to MARK FABISH. JEREMIAH GREATHOUSE missed field goals of 37 and 42 yards, while JOE ALDRICH kicked a 27-yarder for Columbia. . . . The Lions' MIKE CAVANAUGH completed 10 of 15 passes for 147 yards and rushed 29 times for 92 yards. For Penn, which used three wide receivers and one running back, AMAN ABYE carried 25 times for 115 yards. MILES MACEK caught 8 passes for 95 yards, Fabish 6 for 94, Rouse 5 for 100. DeRosa completed 22 of 39 passes for 310 yards. . . . RORY WILFORK of Columbia had 11 tackles (4 for losses), 5 assists and a sack.

#2 1994 Columbia 38 Cornell 33

(from the Syracuse Herald American--note how they misspelled Marcellus Wiley's name)

Jamie Schwalbe threw for four touchdowns and Columbia guaranteed its first winning season since 1971 with a victory over Cornell.

The Lions (5-3-1, 3-3 Ivy League) last finished above .500 with a 6-3 record 23 years ago. They close the season at home next week against Brown.

Chad Levitt ran for three touchdowns for Cornell (6-3, 3-3), which lost its third straight game.

Marcellus Wyley turned in a brilliant all-around defensive performance for the Lions and scored their final touchdown on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter - his only carry of the day. It capped a 45-yard drive that began with his recovery of a Cornell fumble.

Wyley, a junior defensive end, had four tackles, one sack, batted down three passes and had an interception in addition to his critical fumble recovery.

Schwalbe, who hit four different receivers with scoring passes, finished 17-for-25 for 278 yards.

Schwalbe's first touchdown pass, a 44-yard toss to Jim Jim Jones gave the Lions a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, but the Big Red rallied for a 10-10 tie on Levitt's 5-yard run at 5:59 of the second quarter.

Cornell took a brief lead on Per Larson's 34-yard touchdown pass to Arron Berryman before Schwalbe hit David Ramirez with a 5-yard pass with 35 seconds left in the first half for a 17-17 tie.

With Cornell leading 27-24, the Lions scored twice in the fourth quarter on Schwalbe's 16-yard pass to tight end Brian Bassett and Wyley's run.

Terry Smith finished with 126 yards on 13 carries for Cornell, while Levitt had 107 on 28 carries.

#1: 1988 Columbia 16 Princeton 13

Columbia Wins! That's Right, Wins!
9 October 1988
The New York Times

The end came for Columbia yesterday. The 44-game losing streak and the five years of no-win situations became history in the wake of a 16-13 triumph over Princeton that spread championship-like joy throughout Lawrence A. Wien Stadium at Baker Field.

The end came for Columbia yesterday. The 44-game losing streak and the five years of no-win situations became history in the wake of a 16-13 triumph over Princeton that spread championship-like joy throughout Lawrence A. Wien Stadium at Baker Field.

Solomon Johnson's 2-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes 13 seconds left provided the margin of victory for the Lions, whose last previous victory came in the fifth game of the 1983 season, the now-legendary 21-18 triumph over Yale.

After that game, the Lions tied Bucknell, lost to Holy Cross and tied Dartmouth. Then, in the next-to-last game of the 1983 season, starting with a 31-6 loss to Cornell, the defeats began to build. And build. And build. No major-college team ever lost more consecutive games.

To celebrate the end of the 44-game losing streak, several hundred students and Columbia supporters ran onto the field the moment the final whistle sounded, brought down the goal posts and carried them around the stadium.

Columbia's supporters had agonized through most of the game and particularly toward the end. Princeton missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt on the last play.

No one in the homecoming crowd of 5,420 apparently suffered more while counting down the final seconds than Larry McElreavy, who is in his third year as coach of the Lions.

When someone asked the 42-year-old McElreavy, whose record with Columbia is now 1-23, at what stage he thought his team would win, he laughed aloud and said, ''About four minutes after the game was over.''

Once he had completely digested the significance of his team's finally getting a victory, McElreavy became serious. ''This is the first concrete building block in rebuilding this program,'' he said.

McElreavy's team had shown signs of progress, particularly in last week's loss to Penn.

''It sounds simplistic,'' McElreavy said, ''but I kept saying that if we kept playing the way we did we would finally win. I kept saying we didn't want to win on hocus-pocus.''

Princeton (2-2) had taken a 10-0 lead and held a 13-9 lead after a touchdown by Kris Keys and two field goals by Chris Lutz.

Matt Less scored the first touchdown for the Lions (1-3), on a 9-yard reception from Bruce Mayhew, and Matt Pollard's 33-yard field goal provided the other points.

The biggest contributor to Columbia's victory was Greg Abbruzzese, the sophomore tailback from Swampscott, Mass. He carried the ball 37 times for 182 yards. Two sacks by Mark Zielinski, the senior defensive end from Rutherford, N.J., were crucial.

''It's great to get it against an Ivy League team,'' Zielinksi said of the victory. ''We always believed.'' Familiar Faces

Jason Garrett's 201 yards on 18 completions in 29 attempts and Judd Garrett's 22 carries for 116 yards were not enough for Princeton. The Garrett brothers are sons of Jim Garrett, who coached Columbia to an 0-10 record in 1985 in the midst of the losing streak. Both players transferred to Princeton after their father left Columbia under pressure at the end of the 1985 season.

The Garrett brothers refused to be interviewed after the game, but their coach, Steve Tosches, said Columbia was the better team and deserved the victory.

''They outplayed us,'' Tosches said. ''Their offensive line controlled our defense. Maybe it was surprising they didn't score more.''

One of biggst plays for Columbia was Zielinski's fourth-down sack of Jason Garrett on the next-to-last series for the Tigers.

When Tosches was asked why he didn't attempt a game-tying field goal from about 45 yards during the series, he said he didn't want the tie. He did go for the tie on the last play of the game but Lutz's kick was about 10 yards short. Tigers Score First

Princeton dominated early. The Tigers' first drive started at their 25 and ended with a 31-yard field goal with 7:22 gone in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead.

The drive lasted 12 plays, with Judd Garrett handling the ball seven times. The crucial plays were passes from Jason Garrett to Scott Gibbs for two first downs and a 5-yard run by Dennis Heidt for another first down.

One reason the Tigers did not complete their opening drive with a touchdown was because Jason Garrett was sacked by Zielinski for a 10-yard loss.

During Princeton's second series of plays the Tigers were hurt by a penalty and ended up punting on fourth and 29.

But they marched 50 yards in six plays the next time they had the ball and took a 10-0 lead with 9:20 left before halftime. Keys ran left for the last 3 yards.

The Lions scored their first points, on a 33-yard field goal by Pollard, on their fourth possession of the game. The drive went 47 yards in nine plays with Abbruzzesse handling the ball seven times, six times in a row.

Columbia scored a touchdown the next time it had possession, going 53 yards in eight plays. The touchdown came on Mayhew's 9-yard pass to Less. Kick Fails

But Pollard missed the point-after attempt. After a low snap from center, his kick sailed wide left. So with 21 seconds left before intermission, the Lions, as usual, were down, 10-7.

A poor punt by Princeton late in the third quarter put Columbia at the Princeton 40, but the Lions could not get closer than the 23 yard-line and Pollard's 41-yard field-goal attempt was wide left.

Princeton had even better field position on its next series. But after starting at the Columbia 37, the Tigers could muster only a 27-yard field goal by Lutz. The next score was by Columbia, the run by Johnson that ended years of misery for the Lions and their fans.

While the Lions were celebrating, Tosches summed up the feelings of the Tigers.

''This is what you dread,'' the Princeton coach said. ''Life can be very cruel.''

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Awards & Honors

I was happy to see that the coaches agreed with my choice of Adam Brekke for team MVP at this weekend's football awards dinner at Low Library. You can read the athletic departments account of the evening here: Awards Dinner

Awards dinners and shows are all about spreading the honors around and making as many people as possible feel good and keeping as few people as possible feeling left out. In that light, I thought the coaches did a great job of getting a number of this season's key contributors some well-deserved recognition.

They juggled the Darren Schmidt-Adam Brekke problem well by giving Brekke the overall MVP, but Schmidt the defensive MVP award. And they worked the Andy Shalbrack-Austin Knowlin problem out by giving Shalbrack the best freshman award but Knowlin the offensive MVP nod.

I was interested to see sophomore defensive end Phillip Mitchell get the most improved player award. Not that Mitchell wasn't great but there were so many players on this team who improved markedly in 2006, that I was surprised that this wasn't a shared award. The most improved player on the 2006 Lions was clearly Darren Schmidt, who came out of nowhere to lead a very strong defense in tackles for a loss and sacks. But Schmidt was taken care of with the defensive MVP award. Sophomore linebacker Drew Quinn was also a break-out player this year. It looks like Quinn and freshman Justin Masorti were the odd men out when it came to the awards, but they should have a lot more chances for glory as they have most of their careers, at least as starters, ahead of them.

As the season progressed, you could argue that Craig Hormann was the most improved player not from 2005 but from the beginning of week one to the end of week 10. Jordan Davis was another player who showed a lot of improvement, especially in the last two games.

But my BIG QUESTION is when and if the athletic department will make the season highlight video they showed at the dinner available to the general public? I think a lot of us would be happy to pay the $19.99 or whatever they want to charge to get a look at it.

Huston's Gone?

It looks like kicker Patrick Huston is off the team as his name is no longer on the roster. I'd be very sorry if Huston was still M.I.A. when the season starts and he had kicked off well and he certainly filled in admirably in the Brown game when Jon Rocholl was briefly benched. Since Rocholl will only be a junior next year it's not like Huston's departure means the team would really be hurting, but it does mean that an injury to Rocholl would be devastating.

At some point, Coach Wilson and his staff will have to come up with an effective antidote to Columbia's long-standing problem with players quitting the football team. It may take many years, but this has to stop if the Lions ever want to win a championship. It's not that the best players are leaving the team; it's just that quitting the squad is a common enough occurrence that we seem to be getting used to it. That means the players are too and we could one day face a snowball effect.

The good news is this is the off season, and there's presumably some chance Huston will return along with Chad Musgrove, who didn't quit the team but left school for an unknown reason in the middle of the season. We shall see.