Though the football team’s offense struggled once again in a 21-7 loss to Penn (3-2, 2-0 Ivy), the Light Blue defense—led by senior and co-captain Zach Olinger—played well enough to keep the Lions (0-5, 0-2 Ivy) in the game.
In the first quarter, the Columbia defense held the defending Ivy champions scoreless. Though the Quakers took the lead with two touchdowns in the second, the Light Blue defense minimized the damage by blanking Penn once again in the third quarter.
And down 14-7 23 seconds into the fourth quarter, the Light Blue defense even gave its offense an opportunity to tie the game, as senior defensive back Jeremy Mingo picked off Penn quarterback Billy Ragone in Columbia’s own red zone.
But Mingo’s big pick ultimately wasn’t the turning point that it could’ve been. On the next play, Quakers defensive back Evan Jackson picked off first-year quarterback Kelly Hilinski, giving Penn another chance deep in Light Blue territory.
“We knew they were going to come out firing downfield after a big play—that’s what most offenses do,” Jackson said. “My guy did about a 10-yard out, and I just kind of jumped in front of it and luckily came down with the ball. We were just making sure we did our jobs. Nothing spectacular.”
Penn would capitalize on the turnover, as running back Spencer Kulcsar plowed into the end zone to take a 21-7 lead.
Still, the Light Blue defense made the most of a difficult task throughout the game. Despite being on the field for 40 more plays than the Light Blue offense, the defense held the Quakers to just three touchdowns, stepping up when necessary to stop several key Penn drives.
“We ran 91 offensive plays for 438 yards and we have 21 points to show for it. That just doesn’t make sense. There’s no logic into that,” Penn head coach Al Bagnoli said. “I think one of the issues is we had 12 penalties for 105 yards, a couple of dropped balls, and, again, you can’t do that.”
The Quakers had several penalties that took away first downs, or significantly changed field position throughout the game. They also jumped offsides three times from Hilinski’s hard count.
“A lot of what’s happening is self-inflicted,” Bagnoli said. “Kid jumps offsides, late hits—those are all self-inflicted.”
Olinger led the Lions with 14 tackles. After struggling with his man early in the game, junior defensive end Chad Washington, who tallied 11 tackles, started to break through the offensive line and noticeably pressured Penn’s quarterbacks. Junior linebacker Vinny Pugliese gave another strong performance, with 10 tackles and the Lions’ sole forced fumble. In addition to his interception, Jeremy Mingo had six tackles and broke up two passes, including one in the end zone.
Still, the Lions’ defense had plenty of struggles. Senior defensive back Marquel Carter got called for two 15-yard penalties—one personal foul, one for unsportsmanlike conduct—on Penn’s final drive of the third quarter. Additionally, the usually sure-tackling Olinger noticeably whiffed on a few stops.
Irrespective of the Light Blue’s strengths and shortcomings, there’s a reason why Penn is the defending Ivy champ. But that doesn't mean Columbia couldn't have performed better.
“They’re a good football team, and you can’t take that away from them,” Light Blue head coach Pete Mangurian said of Penn. “But nothing happened out on that field that we couldn’t have done. We just didn’t do it.”