With about four minutes left on the clock in last Saturday's season opener versus Marist, the Light Blue appeared to be facing an uphill battle.
The Red Foxes seemed to have scored a touchdown on a big passing play that would have put them up 15-10 with an extra point attempt upcoming. Though the play still resulted in 37-yard gain, Marist found itself on Columbia's 39-yard line, facing a 10-9 deficit after a holding call negated the touchdown.
As they did so many times during the game, the Lions (1-0) regrouped and prevented Marist (1-2) from building on its momentum. The Light Blue defense clamped down, ultimately forcing the Red Foxes to turn the ball over on downs and preserving Columbia’s precarious one-point lead.
“The game's got penalties. The game has turnovers. How you handle those things in sequence and whether you take the best of them, or let them take the best of you, is the difference between winning and losing,” Mangurian said.
In the most critical moments of last Saturday's opener, everything seemed to click for Columbia. Marist, which made a number of big plays, never was quite able to string them together and build momentum as the Lions refused to lose control of the game.
“You try to recover play-to-play, series-to-series, where it doesn't turn into a bad quarter, into a bad half, into a bad game,” Mangurian said.
At one point in the third quarter, Marist was first and goal from the Columbia one following a 35-yard pass by Red Foxes' junior quarterback Chuckie Looney. Marist seemed poised to score a touchdown, that coupled with an extra point, would have tied the game at 10.
But Lions junior linebacker Zach Olinger responded, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Columbia and gave the Light Blue the ball.
“In practice we prepared for goal line. We prepared, had a good plan,” Olinger said.
Marist was unable to get any points out of the drive and Columbia maintained its lead.
The Light Blue refused to cut corners or cave in to the flow of the game on special teams as well, and a special teams play provided Columbia with the one-point edge that proved to be its winning margin. After Marist scored its only touchdown of the afternoon with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter, the Lions bounced back yet again as junior defensive lineman Wells Childress blocked the extra point to preserve the 10-9 lead.
But although Columbia did an excellent job of showing resilience after Marist made big plays, the Lions need to do a better job of going for the jugular themselves, when given the opportunity.
On one occasion the Lions were handed excellent field position after Marist senior punter Jason Myers' knee touched the ground on his own four-yard line during a punt attempt. But the Lions were unable to make the most of the drive and had to settle for a field goal.
The Lions also could have done a better job of taking advantage of their 10-6 advantage in penalties and 90-55 advantage in penalty yards, though they did make the most of the holding call that overturned a would-be go-ahead score.
“I thought there were some points in the game when they had some penalties that we could have got the upper hand and sustained it a little bit better,” Mangurian said. “The other team makes errors, you need to capitalize on them.”
The Lions will certainly need to jump on every chance they get this weekend against Fordham (2-1), which posted up an impressive 34-27 win last Saturday over a Cornell team with a lot of offensive firepower, including Big Red quarterback Jeff Mathews, who threw for 489 yards against the Rams.
In their first game the Lions showed that when they are bent, they are not easily broken. Against the Rams, they will need to hone their killer instinct.