Updated 10/21 at 1:00 a.m.
Columbia fans will have to wait at least another year for a Homecoming victory.
Columbia (0-5, 0-2 Ivy) has not won a Homecoming game since 2000, and Saturday afternoon’s contest against Penn (3-2, 2-0 Ivy) was no different. The Lions could not hold on to an early lead, as the defending Ivy League champions quickly erased the first-quarter deficit and ultimately secured the win.
“We knew going in that they were a good team, and hats off to Penn—they are a good team. But we game-planned well enough to be able to beat them,” first-year quarterback Kelly Hilinski said. “But we need to make plays when it comes down to it.”
The Lions did draw first blood against the defending-champion Quakers, scoring on their third possession of the game.
Hilinski connected with first-year wide receiver Cameron Dunn on a huge 46-yard pass off a flea flicker, giving Columbia a first-and-goal from the six.
The Light Blue wasted little time in taking advantage of the opportunity. Senior running back and co-captain Marcorus Garrett punched it in on the next play, putting the home team up 7-0 with 4:02 left in the first quarter.
Despite giving up the early touchdown, the Penn defense for the most part did a good job containing Columbia’s first-team All-Ivy running back, holding Garrett to just 46 yards on 19 carries.
“We have the greatest respect for him. He’s one of the premier running backs in this league,” Penn head coach Al Bagnoli said of Garrett. “That was the key to the game. We had to figure out ways to contain him and put more of the pressure on the younger kids around him.”
Following Garrett’s touchdown, Columbia’s defense neutralized a Penn threat early in the second quarter after a long Quaker drive stalled out at the Columbia 14. An incomplete pass on third and 11 forced Penn to kick a field goal, but Quakers kicker Connor Loftus’ attempt was wide left.
The Lions got the ball back but went three and out, and neither team got anything going until Penn got the ball at the Columbia 46 with 7:56 to play in the half.
After picking up a couple of first downs it looked like the Lions’ defense had once again stymied the Quakers deep in Columbia territory. But Penn quarterback Ryan Becker hit tight end Mitchell King for a touchdown in the face of a jailbreak blitz on third and 17 to tie the game at seven.
“We were moving the ball so well, we were able to just keep going. I told them all to just keep fighting, and third down we had to execute just to get down to the next one, and we just happened to get the touchdown there,” Becker said.
Penn tacked on another touchdown late in the half, when quarterback Billy Ragone found wide receiver Ty Taylor from 12 yards out to put the visitors on top 14-7 going into the break.
On its first possession of the second half, Penn had an opportunity to add to its lead, but missed a 37-yard field goal attempt to come away empty-handed from a promising drive.
Neither team was able to get much of anything going offensively for much of the third, until Penn got the ball on its own five with 1:16 to play in the quarter.
The Quakers got a big boost on a 25-yard run by Kyle Wilcox, and a couple of 15-yard penalties for a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct gave Penn yet another scoring opportunity.
But senior free safety Jeremy Mingo picked off a Ragone pass at the Columbia 13, nullifying the Penn threat and electrifying the Homecoming crowd.
“It was a big moment on defense—we had to make a play to get the offense back on the field,” Mingo said. “[Senior linebacker] Brian East made a good play, tipped the ball up, and I just saw the opportunity to make a play, and made it.”
The excitement proved to be short-lived, however, as Hilinski threw an interception on the very first play of the ensuing Light Blue possession.
Given a second chance deep in Columbia territory, the Quakers capitalized. Running back Spencer Kulcsar punched it in from four yards out to give Penn a 21-7 lead with 11:19 to go in the game.
Neither team would score again, as Penn closed out the win to improve to 2-0 in Ivy play. Columbia fell to 0-5 on the season with what Columbia head coach Pete Mangurian described as an especially painful loss.
“This one hurts. They all hurt, but this one really hurts. We prepared very well this week, we really did,” Mangurian said. “But we’ve still got to pass through that valley, and we haven’t done it yet.”