Updated 10/6 at 11:30 p.m.
PRINCETON, N.J.—The football team struggled from the get-go on Saturday, falling to Princeton 53-7. The Tigers (2-1, 1-0 Ivy)—led by quarterback Quinn Epperly, who burned the Lions (0-3, 0-1 Ivy) on the ground and through the air—dominated the Lions on both sides of the ball.
After his rough debut against Monmouth last Saturday, sophomore quarterback Trevor McDonagh couldn’t find his rhythm and was replaced by first-year Kelly Hilinski with 10:03 remaining in the second quarter. McDonagh completed only four passes for 10 yards on the day.
“He has worked awful hard, but this wasn’t really working for him,” head coach Pete Mangurian said of McDonagh after the game. “It didn’t work well for him last week, either.”
While Hilinski executed the Lions’ only touchdown, the 6-foot-6, 223-pound first-year quarterback looked inexperienced in his first collegiate game and struggled to move his offense down the field. He finished 10-21 with 132 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
“There are only so many options that you have,” Mangurian said. “Until we get stronger and recruit more guys and have a deeper team, our options will be limited, and we’ll have to stick with some of the ones we have.”
On Columbia’s opening drive, McDonagh completed his first pass, but senior running back and co-captain Marcorus Garrett was stopped in his tracks on second down. First-year wide receiver Cameron Dunn couldn’t hold onto the ball on third down, finishing the Lions’ first of many three-and-outs.
The Light Blue defense looked sharp on Princeton’s opening drive. On third down, senior defensive lineman Nick Melka came up with a big deflection to force a punt. Then, first-year running back Alan Watson, playing on special teams, blocked kicker Nolan Bieck’s kick, giving the Lions the ball on Princeton’s 35-yard line.
But the Lions couldn’t capitalize on their good field position in what was one of their best chances to score on the day. Princeton’s Mike Zeuli blocked senior kicker Luke Eddy’s field goal attempt, and the Tigers returned the ball to Columbia’s 47-yard line.
Though they wouldn’t score on the ensuing drive—with two touchdowns wiped off the board due to penalties—that’s when the Tigers took control. With their two-quarterback attack of Epperly and Connor Michelsen, they easily blew by the Columbia defense. Later in the first, the Tigers pushed 85 yards down the field in seven plays for a touchdown. After taking a hard hit from senior linebacker and co-captain Zach Olinger, who led the squad with 15 tackles, Michelsen left the game. He was held out of the second half for cautionary reasons.
But even without their two-pronged passing attack, the Tigers piled on the points. Following its strong first quarter, the Light Blue defense struggled to stop Epperly and the Tigers. After the quarterback hit wide receiver Roman Wilson with a 46-yard pass, Epperly found his favorite receiver again for a 13-yard touchdown completion for a 7-0 lead.
Then in the second quarter, Epperly rushed for a three-yard touchdown to make it 14-0 Tigers, and Princeton’s next drive ended with the quarterback hitting wide receiver Seth DeValve with a floating 20-yard touchdown pass. Princeton made a two-point conversion, making it 22-0 Tigers.
In his first drive, Hilinski was unable to jump-start the Lions’ offense. After two short carries from Garrett—who, after two huge games, ran for only 22 yards on 11 carries—and an incomplete pass from Hilinski to Hollis, the Lions punted again.
“They were just not going to let us run the football today,” Mangurian said. “So, I can slam Marcorus’ head up in there 25 or 30 times, but you’ve got to throw the football good enough to loosen things up.”
Columbia scored its only touchdown on the day when Hilinski hit sophomore receiver Scooter Hollis—whose defender ran into a referee—and Hollis sprinted down the left sideline untouched for a 70-yard touchdown, making it 29-7 Tigers with 1:23 left before the half.
But Epperly—who finished 19-25 with 272 yards and six total touchdowns, two coming on the ground—found Wilson again for the wideout’s third touchdown of the day with 29 seconds left in the second quarter.
After halftime, the Tigers continued to dominate the Lions on offense, pushing down the field with a 13-play, 75-yard drive, which culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by Epperly, making it 36-7 Tigers.
The Tigers added a field goal and two more touchdowns, bringing the score to 53-7.
“We’re going to make changes and move and evolve,” Mangurian said. “If we’re going to go through this kind of slump, we’ll come out better on the other side.”