Oh, Columbia football. Just when your fans started to believe this year was different, you showed them that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Saturday’s loss to Dartmouth was the perfect, archetypal Columbia football game: an emotional nail-biter that we definitely could have won. In the immortal words of The Foundations, why do you build us up just to let us down and mess us around?
After winning—no, dominating—three straight games, it seemed like this season would finally be different. There was talk of a title run during the week leading up to the Penn game, and given the way the team was playing at that time, an Ivy championship wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. Even after a loss to the Quakers, it was still easy to believe that the Lions would finish near the top of the conference. Penn is the reigning champ, after all.
This excitement was palpable at Homecoming on Saturday. The atmosphere was much different than last season. People were actually excited, not apathetic, about the game. The stands were packed with over 10,000 fans—3,000 more than last year. And they weren’t just talking about all the free stuff they got. They were talking about the team—about who was having a good season and who wasn’t, about how the loss to Penn didn’t completely destroy our title hopes, about our chances of beating Dartmouth. For a while there, it almost felt like we went to a huge state school and not a certain New York City Ivy League institution. But by the end we all came crashing down to earth. It turned out to be a stereotypical Columbia football game.
At first, things weren’t that bad. Sure, Zack Kourouma fumbled the ball on the very first play from scrimmage, but he recovered it. The Lions actually ended up scoring on that drive, taking an early 7-0 lead thanks to a few solid passes by quarterback Sean Brackett and a handful of impressive rushes by Nick Gerst. The defense then managed to hold Dartmouth to just a field goal, and the 7-3 scoreline held until halftime.
Not the most exciting first half, but hey, we were winning, and nothing else really mattered. That all changed in the third quarter, though, when Dartmouth scored twice in a row to go up 17-7, making a Columbia win seem nearly impossible.
Everyone sitting around me started to groan, “Of course we’re losing. Classic Columbia football.” The mass of fans that had just been buzzing about what a beast Alex Gross is and how nimble Brackett has been was understandably deflated. We’ve been here before. We know this particular form of disappointment very intimately.
But then, one minute into the fourth quarter, Josh Martin recovered a fumble by Big Green quarterback Conner Kempe when Dartmouth was just 15 yards from scoring a third touchdown. That fumble recovery was like a volt of electricity straight to the heart of the coding crowd. The offense drove 70 yards downfield to the end zone to make the score 17-14 Dartmouth, and we were back in it.
Immediately following that drive, Ryan Murphy forced Dartmouth’s T.J. Cameron to fumble the kickoff return, and Nick Mistretta recovered it to set the Lions up at the Dartmouth 25. All the negative emotions from just minutes earlier were completely gone, and the entire crowd was going insane.
But just three plays later, Brackett got sacked and lost the ball, turning it over to the Big Green. Once again, it seemed as if the Lions were going to throw away their chance at a win and revert to their old, losing ways. At this point, people around me actually did start leaving, giving up hope that Columbia would be able to come back.
But then, once again, the Light Blue built up its fans’ hopes by forcing Dartmouth running back Nick Schwieger to fumble the ball on the very next play. The Lions took over at the Big Green 29-yard line with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game. Columbia eventually scored, regaining the lead it had held for the entire first half.
If this were any other team, it probably would have won the game, but it was Columbia. Dartmouth scored a touchdown on its next drive, taking a 24-21 lead. The Lions had a chance to pull out a last-second victory, but the offense couldn’t make it downfield and turned it over on downs.
The Light Blue is now 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the league. I would hope for at least a .500 finish in the Ivy League, but I don’t want to be let down again.