In what was the final Columbia football game of the Norries Wilson era, the Light Blue avoided its first winless season since 1987 by defeating Brown (7-3, 4-3 Ivy) in a 35-28 double-overtime thriller.
A stagnant offensive performance—which had 18 total yards and one first down—meant the Lions were behind 21-7 going into halftime. Six defensive takeaways kept the Lions close throughout the game, and in the second half and overtime the offense did what it had to do to come out on top.
“We talked last night and today that we can’t accept trying is doing,” head coach Wilson said. “We can’t accept mediocrity. You can’t accept it for yourself, your teammates, and your coaches. Today, they didn’t accept mediocrity.”
“This game was not an overtime game,” Brown head coach Phil Estes said. “This game should have been over long before that. We handed every opportunity for them to get back into the game—penalties, turnovers, and just poor execution. Columbia persevered and did a great job of hanging in there. They deserved to win the game, period.”
On Brown’s first drive of the game, Columbia senior cornerback Neil Schuster undercut and intercepted Bears quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero’s deep pass at Columbia’s 11-yard line. However, Columbia gave back the momentum on just its second play from scrimmage when senior wide receiver Kurt Williams fumbled the football on the Lions’ own 17-yard line. Brown linebacker Matt O’Donnell recovered it next to the sideline and returned it for the touchdown to put the Bears up 7-0. Williams’ fumble was the first of eight fumbles by both teams.
Five minutes into the first quarter, Light Blue sophomore defensive back Marquel Carter stripped the ball away from Brown tight end Alex Harris. Columbia senior cornerback Ross Morand recovered the ball and ran back 26 yards to the Brown 10-yard line. It took the Light Blue just two plays to tie the game as junior quarterback Sean Brackett ran it in from two yards out.
For the rest of the first half, Brown’s offense controlled the clock and the scoreboard while the Columbia offense stagnated. A nine-yard pass from Newhall-Caballero to wide receiver Matt Sudfeld capped off an eight-play, 79-yard drive 10 minutes into the first quarter. The trend continued two minutes into the second quarter when Newhall-Caballero found Sudfeld again in the end zone, putting the Bears up 21-7.
Brown nearly went up by three touchdowns late in the second quarter, but Columbia senior defensive back A.J. Maddox made a praiseworthy break on a Newhall-Caballero pass on Columbia’s six-yard line, intercepting the ball and returning it 77 yards before being forced out of bounds by the Brown quarterback. The offense was unable to convert the opportunity into points after sophomore kicker Luke Eddy missed a 31-yard field goal attempt late in the second quarter.
Throughout the 2011 season, the Lions have allowed games to get away from them in the third quarter. However, on Saturday, the defense didn’t allow that to happen.
A costly fumble on a handoff between Brackett and sophomore running back Griffin Lowry gave Brown the football on the Lions two-yard line. The defense held stout, and senior linebacker Evan Miller stripped the ball away from a scrambling Newhall-Caballero on third and goal. Miller’s classmate Schuster emerged from the pile with the football.
“For this season, that wasn’t Columbia football,” Wilson said. “They went and played. It’s not lost on me that they didn’t in the nine prior weeks, but they got it done today.”
Another fumble by Newhall-Caballero, forced by Columbia linebacker Ryan Murphy and recovered by defensive lineman Seyi Adebayo, gave Columbia a great chance to cut into the Bears’ two-score lead. With 9:36 remaining in the fourth quarter, Brackett spun in for a two-yard touchdown.
Murphy came up big for the Lions on the Bears’ next possession with a 12-yard sack on third down. The Lions drove 40 yards in six plays, including a critical 26-yard third down pass completion to senior wide receiver Mike Stephens to tie the game at 21. Brackett capped off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run with 5:06 remaining in the game.
Brown’s Alexander Norocea missed a field goal attempt inside of two minutes that gave the Lions a shot to win the game in regulation. Brackett drove the Lions deep into Bear territory and found a wide-open Williams over the middle of the field for a first down. Eventually, Columbia sent out Eddy for the 40-yard field goal attempt to try and win the game with 13 seconds on the clock.
Brown’s special teams, which had come closer and closer to blocking Eddy’s extra point attempts, finally connected and blocked the kick. In the final play of regulation, Brown’s Hail Mary pass was intercepted by Morand to send the game to overtime.
In the additional period, Brown was the first team on offense. On the first play, Newhall-Caballero scrambled in the pocket and found senior wide receiver Jimmy Saros all alone in the end zone.
Columbia knew it needed to get into the end zone to keep the game going.
On fourth and one from the 16, Brackett was stopped short, but his second effort gave him the first down. On the next play, Brackett found sophomore tight end Hamilton Garner in the end zone for the tying touchdown.
“In overtime it’s about will,” Brackett said. “You just have to want it more. If you ask anyone on the team how they felt about the game, they didn’t want to be denied.”
In the second overtime, the Lions kept the football in the hands of Brackett, who finished the day with five total touchdowns, on three straight plays. Brackett capped off the drive by spinning out of trouble and beating the entire Brown defense down the sideline into the end zone.
On their possession, the Bears had a first and goal from the four-yard line. As it did the entire second half, the Columbia defense played extremely stoutly, forcing a fourth and goal from the one. On the final play of the game, Columbia’s Miller was able to tackle Newhall-Caballero, but it was unclear whether the quarterback had broken the plane of the goal line.
Brown’s defense and Columbia’s offense huddled around the referees as they discussed the call. After what seemed like an eternity, the head referee emerged from the fray to declare that Brown had come up short.
After the call, the rest of the squad stormed the field in euphoria to celebrate the team’s first overtime win since 1996—the last time the Light Blue had a winning season.
“We dug deep as a team,” Miller said. “We’ve been doing that all season. I’m happy we finally got a win.”
With the win, the Lions improved their senior day record under Wilson to 5-1, something the coach was very proud of.
“This is a good group of seniors,” Wilson said. “They put their heart and soul into it today. Monday they’ll still be disappointed about being 1-9, but they’ll have a good story about their senior season to talk to their kids about.”