Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Fighting 76!

Jeff Oke '06 had a career night in the Bronx

It's time to start my list of the top 10 games of the 2000's in Columbia football.

But before I begin, a few quick comments about this past decade have to be made.

On the bright side, Columbia enjoyed the services of many great players over the past 10 years. In fact, some of them rank among the best Lions ever in school history. That includes Columbia's all-time leading rusher, all-time leading pass receiver, and all-time leading sack artist. The Lions boasted two Ivy Rookies of the Year who lived up to that early top billing. There were many All-Ivy honorees and many more who deserved recognition but didn't get it.

But the overall numbers don't lie. The 2000's saw the Lions struggle to a 26-74 overall record, 15-55 in the Ivies. That was coming off an overall 33-65-2, 22-48 Ivy record in what was a mostly encouraging decade of the 1990's.

Some of this could be due to transitions at the top. The Lions have had three head coaches in this past decade while Ray Tellier was at the helm throughout the 90's.

Suffice it to say, the overwhelming majority of Columbia fans are upbeat after the way the 2009 season... especially with some very promising young players like Jeff Adams and Sean Brackett on the roster for the next few years.

And before we close the book on the 2000's, I want to help everyone relive some very great moments for the decade.

Starting with...

GAME #10: Columbia 23 Fordham 17

September 17, 2005 - Jack Coffey Field

By most measures, the 2005 season was a disaster for the Lions. There was a cloud of pessimism even before training camp as 2004 was supposed to be THE YEAR with returning stars, (and future NFL'ers), like Jeff Otis at QB, Wade Fletcher at TE, and Michael Quarshie on the defensive line.

But Fletcher missed almost half the season with a pullen hamstring and the offense never really recovered. Columbia finished '04 at 1-9.

Then training camp arrived and the Lions suffered defections from the program. By the time the season started there were roughly 76 players on the Columbia roster, an unworkable number by just about any standard.

But those players who stuck around showed a terrific amount of fight and determination. No other Ivy team worked harder just to show up every week that year, and maybe any year.

With that gloomy outlook over their heads, the '05 Lions made the short trip to Fordham to face a heavily favored Ram squad on their newly-installed FieldTurf surface.

There were some other interesting stories going into the game besides the size of the Columbia squad and the low expectations for the season. The biggest one concerned the starting QB spot, as then Head Coach Bob Shoop first selected sophomore Craig Hormann and then switched to promising to split the duties between Hormann and senior Joe Winters. But no matter who was under center, he would be guarded by a super-green offensive line with one ONE player who had any game experience prior to 2005.

The 6pm scheduled start was delayed over an hour after lightning was sighted in the distant sky, but there never was any rain after all and the lightning never got closer.

When the game finally did get going, Fordham didn't make things easy. The Rams were up 10-0 early in the second quarter and looking to put the game away. But freshman John Rocholl made the first of his many long field goals in his career with a 41-yarder and the Lions held on to keep it at 10-3 at the half.

After forcing a three-and-out on the Rams initial second hald possession, Hormann led the offense 64 yards down the field and finished with a game-tying 12-yard TD pass to senior Brandon Bowser.

Later in the third, Fordham's James Prydatko took off down the sidelines for a 57-yard TD and the Rams had the lead the momentum back... but only for a moment. Senior captain Prosper Nwokocha returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards to tie it back up at 17.

From then on, the Columbia defense and John Rocholl took over. Senior defensive end Jeff Oke got his first sack of the night and forced a fumble that eventually led to a short Rocholl field goal. Another short Rocholl FG made it 23-17 with about 10 minutes to go in the 4th.

The rest of the game was punctuated by Lion defensive stands. The biggest came at the very end of the game as the final Fordham drive was stopped by two consecutive sacks by Oke to finish the game.

The win featured a nice combination of old and new for Columbia. Seniors like Winters and Bowser contributed with some key passes and receptions, respectively. First-time starter Hormann made a splash with his 22-for-33, 215-yard passing performance. Rocholl opened a lot of eyes as well.

But it was a team effort, albeit from a depleted team, that won the game that night in the Bronx.

Unfortunately, there were too many games in the 2000's where the Lions were undermanned like they were in that 2005 season opener. Fortunately, the men who played those games, win or lose, showed a strength that not many of us even get the chance to exhibit in a lifetime.


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