Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Kicking Off an Era

Knowlin scored his first CU TD in a surprise blowout vs. Fordham

Game #9

Columbia 37 Fordham 7

Sept. 16th 2006

Wien Stadium

It's Tuesday, so it's time to resume the top 10 best games of the 2000's countdown.

Game #10 was the 23-17 win over Fordham in 2005, and the 9th best game took place one year later also against the Rams, this time at Wien Stadium.

The 2006 Lions were under new management. Late in 2005, Norries Wilson was hired as head coach and he brought in an entirely new coaching staff with him.

After a 2-8, 0-7 Ivy season in '05, not much was expected of Columbia in Wilson's inaugural season. There were a number of key returning players, led by QB Craig Hormann, but most pundits doubted the defense's abilities after giving up a startling 33.7 points per game the year before.

Adding to the doubts were rumors that a number of freshmen were going to either start or get significant playing time.

The best chance for the Lions seemed to come from the fact that Fordham was also in transition. The Rams were under a brand new head coach as well in Tom Masella. He too was tinkering with a big number of freshmen starters and other new players.

For the fans, the best news before the game was that the weather was absolutely gorgeous!

The Lions lost the toss but got the ball first when the Rams chose to defer to the second half. In contrast to the information on the two-deep, it was Chad Musgrove and freshman Josh A. Williams back deep to return the kicks. This was to be the first of a few minor discrepancies between the two-deep and what actually occurred on the field, as Coach Wilson did make some last minute changes as he had promised. Williams took the kick at his two and ran it back to the 23. Hormann ended up running the ball for a one-yard gain when he had to run to avoid a sack on first down. On second down, Jordan Davis rushed for no gain setting up a 3rd and nine from the CU 24. Here, Columbia would make one of its few mistakes on the day as Hormann floated a pass to Adrian Demko that Demko bobbled and it ended up being intercepted by Fordham standout Earl Hudnell at the CU 45. Hormann faced heavy Fordham pressure on this first series and pretty much all afternoon. He would get better at reacting to it as the game wore on, but the fierce Ram rush did nothing to calm what seemed like opening day jitters for the Lion signal caller.

But in what would turn out to be the first key turning point in the game, the Columbia defense did not let the Rams take advantage of the Lion mistake. Fordham star James Prydatko rushed twice for a total of three yards before Ram QB Derric Daniels threw an incomplete pass that would have been short of a first down anyway. Fordham had to punt it right back to the Lions.

Columbia had to start its second series at its own seven yard line after a wonderful punt by Fordham's Ben Dato. The Lions looked a little better on this series, as they converted a first down on a 15-yard pass from Hormann to James Besselman on 3rd and six from the eleven, but the drive died after that and a good return on Jon Rocholl's 39-yard punt put Fordham in good position again at the Lion 49.

This time, the Rams were obviously determined to test Columbia against the run. It was a test Columbia failed week in and week out in 2005, and on this series they briefly showed some weakness. Six Fordham rushes produced 32 yards and two first downs before the Rams brief ray of sunshine suddenly turned to gloom. Adam Brekke and Drew Quinn combined on a four-yard sack on 3rd and three from the CU 17, forcing a Micah Clukey field goal attempt from 38 yards out. But Clukey's kick was resoundingly blocked by junior cornerback Eugene Edwards who came around the side and made a clean block. Columbia recovered on its 22-yard line and Coach Wilson stormed the field to congratulate his troops in the first of his many displays of exuberance during the game.

The Lions quickly started moving the ball on this possession as Davis rushed for 15 yards on first down and Hormann hooked up with Davis for a 13-yard screen play on the next play. But the drive fizzled after that as Hormann threw an incomplete pass on 3rd and nine from the Fordham 49 and Jon Rocholl had to punt. His punt was brilliant however, and Columbia pinned the Rams at their eleven yard line.

And this is where the game would take on true definition. T.J. Jordan replaced Daniels at quarterback and after two runs for a total of four yards, the first quarter ended and the second frame began with a 3rd and 6 for Fordham at their own 15 yard line. Jordan attempted an option and was absolutely pounded by freshman defensive back Andy Shalbrack who knocked the ball, and Jordan's helmet free. Senior nose tackle Todd Abrams fell on the loose ball and Columbia was in business with a 1st down at the Ram 19. Jordan did not to return after that play.

Marching toward the south end zone, the drive had a promising beginning as Hormann completed short passes to Jamal Russell and Davis to set the Lions up with a 1st and goal at the six. Fordham's defense re-asserted itself after that, sacking Hormann on 1st down, tackling Davis for a three-yard loss on an emergency pass on 2nd down, and forcing an incomplete pass on third down to set up a 27-yard field goal which Rocholl hit perfectly to give the Lions a 3-0 lead. Columbia had made Fordham pay for its turnover, not in full, but at least there was something on the scoreboard to show for it.

Columbia's defense started to turn the screws at this point. With Daniels back at QB for the Rams, they went back to the straight-ahead run. On first down, Quinn broke through the line and nailed Prydatko for a two-yard loss. The next running attempt went for no gain. And on 3rd and 12 from the eleven, the long snap back to Daniels in the shotgun formation sailed over his head just into the end zone where Abrams fell on it for his second fumble recovery of the game and a Lion touchdown. Rocholl's PAT was perfect and with about 11:15 left in the first half, Columbia had a 10-0 lead.

But on Fordham's next possession, the Rams finally showed some signs of life and they drover 67 yards for a TD to make it 10-7 with just under seven minutes in the half.

Columbia punted the ball after one first down and then the Coach Masella made a strange choice by going for it on 4th and one from his own 14! Quinn ended up stuffing Prydatko for a two-yard loss on the play and it was now Columbia's ball at the Fordham 12.

Fordham got away without having to suffer the worst for the questionable call, as the pass rush forced an intentional grounding call against Hormann on first down, and the Lions never really went anywhere after that. They ended up settling for a 37-yard field goal from Rocholl and a 13-7 lead with about 1:45 left in the half.

The halftime buzz in the stands was all about the hard-hitting defense. Most impressive was their play against the run, but it was also nice to see the incredible amount of movement the Lion defenders were making before each Fordham snap. This wasn't just a little stunting, but full-out sprints by the linebackers and defensive backs that seemed to be confusing the Rams.

On Columbia's first possession of the second half, the key turning point of the game took place. On a 3rd and one at their own 29, Hormann faced heavy pressure and his screen pass was intercepted by Hudnell and returned for an apparent TD. But the Ram rush turned out to be a little too fierce and Fordham ended up getting flagged for a roughing the passer penalty and six Ram points were taken off the board. Given a second chance, Hormann and the offense started to click. On 3rd and 14 from their own 40, Hormann hooked up with Demko for a 21-yard pass to the Ram 39. On the next play, Davis ran for 14 yards to the 25. The drive stopped there, but Rocholl nailed a 42-yarder to make the score 16-7. The CU field goal and the negated Ram TD amounted to a huge ten-point swing in Columbia's favor.

With about nine minutes left in the third, Columbia shocked everyone by going for an on-sides kick that Fordham just barely grabbed at its own 49. Fordham then came out throwing. Daniels completed a pass to a wide open Sylvester Clarke in the middle of the field, only to have Columbia's 5-7 junior corner Jo Jo Smith hunt him down and strip the ball at the one stopping a sure Fordham touchdown. Smith didn't just tackle Clarke and get lucky with the fumble; he was going for the strip all the way and he got it. Tad Crawford scooped it up and returned it to the CU 15.

That set up Austin Knowlin's first collegiate touchdown. On 2nd and 16 from his own 38, Hormann timed his throw along the west sideline perfectly and got the Fordham defender to go for the ball and miss. The pigskin ended up in Knowlin's hands who sped down the sidelines and into the south end zone for the score and a 23-7 Columbia lead. The strip at the Columbia one and the ensuing Columbia touchdown accounted for another huge 14-point swing and it was now a 16-point Lion lead.

Columbia tacked on two more scores in the fourth quarter to make it 37-7. The win was the start of the best overall year of the decade for Columbia and Norries Wilson became the first Lion head coach to win his first game since Buff Donelli in 1957.

It was a perfect day for a young team and a great start to the year.

(*Thanks to those posters who reminded me that Ray Rangel was another outgoing senior who it would have been great to see win some awards at the Football Banquet Sunday night.

Ray's injury just put him in too tough a position statistically at the end of the year. But emotionally and in every other important measure, Rangel was an extraordinary leader on this team this year and in years past.)


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