NEW HAVEN, CONN.—It was a tale of two halves at the Yale Bowl on Saturday. Turnovers, poor defense, and all-around subpar play buried the Columbia football team in a 31-7 halftime deficit, but the Lions held the Bulldogs scoreless after the break and put 21 straight points on the board. The potential winning drive was snuffed out before Columbia could emerge from its own territory, though, and Yale managed to pullout a painstaking and nail-biting 31-28 conference decision in front of 11,912 freezing hometown fans.
“The bottom line is you can’t wait a half and go down 24 points before you start playing good football,” senior captain Andrew Kennedy said after the game. “That’s what happened today.”
The Bulldogs (5-2, 3-1 Ivy) were up by seven before 60 seconds had elapsed off the game clock after a long kick return gave them a short field from Columbia’s 47. Running back Alex Thomas carried the ball 42 yards on the second play from scrimmage down the left side for the early touchdown.
Columbia (3-4, 1-3 Ivy) got a break on its first drive when quarterback Sean Brackett looked deep up the middle on third and long to Kennedy, a tight end. Although the pass significantly overshot its mark, Yale linebacker Jordan Haynes was tagged for pass interference and the Lions were able to move the chains via the flag. They could not advance past the Yale 47, though, and were forced into punting.
Columbia got it back on its own 24 after a Yale punt, and Brackett unloaded on first down to wide receiver Nico Gutierrez long up the middle. Gutierrez was hit hard just as the ball arrived and it fell incomplete. Then, on third down, defensive lineman Tom McCarthy pressured Brackett and forced a fumble which was recovered by defensive end Sean Williams. The Bulldogs could not find the first-down marker, but a 32-yard field goal pushed their lead to 10-0.
Early in the second, the Lions looked like they would get the ball with good field position when consecutive holding penalties on Yale gave the Bulldogs first and 30 from their own 11. But quarterback Patrick Witt found wide receiver Jordan Forney down the left side for an 18-yard gain on third and 14, and the Elis proceeded to march all the way to Columbia’s end zone. A 10-yard pass to wide receiver Cameron Sandquist—the freshman’s first career reception—capped the 69-yard scoring drive and made it 17-0.
The Bulldogs added another seven just 19 seconds later after Lions fullback Nathan Lenz fumbled and Sandquist picked up his second catch and second touchdown on the ensuing first down.
Now trailing by 24, the Lions continued to make serious mistakes. Craig Hamilton bobbled the kickoff return and Columbia had to start from its own 11, but running back Zack Kourouma keyed the long, 89-yard touchdown drive that finally put the Light Blue on the board. The scoring play came on an 8-yard pass to Kennedy with 2:40 remaining in the second quarter.
But the Lions could not escape the half without further damage on the scoreboard. They forced a punt, but Nico Gutierrez dropped it, gift-wrapping the Elis a chance to pull away with the ball on Columbia’s 22. A 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Allen Harris made it 31-7 Yale at halftime.
The Columbia offense was once again slow out of the locker room after the break. A series of sloppy offensive plays and turnovers—including interceptions by linebacker Alex Gross and cornerback Calvin Otis—stalled the action until the Lions were finally able to put together a 57-yard scoring drive culminating with another touchdown pass to Kennedy, this one from 23 yards out.
The teams exchanged punts until an interception by Columbia safety Adam Mehrer gave his team possession at the Yale 41. A third-down touchdown bomb to Gutierrez pulled Columbia to within 10.
The defense once again forced a Yale punt, and the offense responded by pushing the ball into the enemy red zone. Twice Columbia reached the 8-yard line, and twice holding calls forced the Lions back until finally Brackett was picked off by Haynes. But Thomas fumbled on Yale’s first play from scrimmage and the Light Blue once more had a chance to narrow the deficit. A five-yard touchdown pass to Kennedy, the tight end’s third score of the day, brought the Lions to within three at 31-28 with 6:22 on the clock.
Yale’s offense, which had been struggling since halftime, again went three and out and had to punt. The kick took a Bulldog bounce and Columbia had one last chance to score from its own seven. The Lions moved the chains twice, but a big third-down sack brought up fourth and long. Brackett looked to Kennedy in tight coverage and the ball was batted away, ending Columbia’s hopes for a dramatic second-half comeback.
Although they fell short on the scoreboard, the 21-0 second-half score made Columbia look like a different team after the break.
“What I said in the locker room will probably get me fired,” head coach Norries Wilson said at the post-game press conference. “We didn’t run any different plays in the second half than we did in the first half.”
Brackett went 16-35 on the day for 198 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions. Kourouma led the Lions with 84 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Witt was 19-30 for Yale with 213 yards, three touchdowns, and three picks, while Thomas picked up 137 yards on the ground for the Bulldogs.
Columbia is back in action next Saturday at Harvard. Kickoff is at noon.