Sophomore kicker Oren Milstein had never missed a field goal as close as the 29-yarder he missed midway through the final quarter of football’s first game of the season against Wagner. But that didn’t happen again. With five seconds left on the clock and the game tied 14-14, Milstein squared up from 29 yards out once more and nailed the opportunity.
“You can’t think about it,” Milstein said. “If you think about it then you start changing things and then things start to get out of whack. You just have to trust yourself. At the end of the day, the situation is there but it doesn’t affect the kick.”
The decisive kick came just a year after Milstein singlehandedly defeated the Seahawks in Staten Island, 15-13, and ended something of a tale of two quarters for both the Lions (1-0) and the Seahawks (1-2). While the first quarter was a stalemate, the Lions pulled ahead in the second quarter. The Seahawks got their revenge in the third quarter, though, making the end of the game a nailbiter for both sides.
Columbia broke open the floodgates in the second quarter with two touchdowns and kept Wagner off the board going into the second half. Senior quarterback Anders Hill completed a 32-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Ronald Smith II that placed the Lions on the Seahawks’ one-yard line. First-year quarterback Josh Bean, who played the wildcat role, completed the job by punching up the middle and putting up the first points of the afternoon to bring the score to 7-0 with 13:36 left in the second quarter.
The Lions’ second touchdown came from sophomore wide receiver Josh Wainwright, who came wide open on a corner route after motioning across the formation, collected Hill’s lob, and stutter-stepped past a Wagner safety en route to a 55-yard score. Wainwright and Hill connected for 104 total yards on the day, and it was Wainwright’s fourth consecutive game with a touchdown catch.
In the first half, at least, the defense also had an impressive performance. Sophomore linebacker Jalen Williams worked in tandem with senior defensive back Landon Baty to wrap up Wagner quarterback Luke Massei and keep the Wagner offense off the field.
But the third quarter was a different story for the Lions. The Seahawks’ running back Ryan Fulse charged all the way from the Wagner 17- yard line, bouncing off a couple Light Blue defenders to score an 83-yard touchdown and bring the score to 14-7 with 10:05 left in the third quarter.
The Light Blue’s misfortune continued when a Hill pass found the hands of Wagner defensive back Darryl Gamble after what appeared to be a miscommunication between Hill and Smith. The Seahawks failed to capitalize on the opportunity afforded to them from the interception when kicker James Cooper missed a follow-up 46-yard field goal wide right, but it wouldn’t be long before Wagner made its mark once again.
Just five seconds into the fourth quarter, Hill was blasted on his release and lobbed a floater right to Wagner linebacker Santoni Graham. Graham hurdled and juked his way into Columbia territory, and Fulse ensured that Wagner would capitalize on the opportunity with a 21-yard touchdown run that evened the score at 14-14. After that drive, both teams started to get chippy and penalty flags rained down for the rest of the quarter.
But despite difficulties in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Lions calmed down toward the end of the game.To kickstart the winning drive, Hill rushed for 20 yards on third and 11 with just 48 seconds left on the clock, putting the Lions on the Wagner 29. This play was followed by two incomplete passes, with pressure mounting on Hill. On the ensuing third and 10, Hill went deep for Smith II in the endzone. The ball fell incomplete, but Smith drew a penalty for pass interference, and Columbia found itself deep in enemy territory on the Wagner 14.
“I think that we’ve got to to get in the habit of staying aggressive,” Bagnoli said. “We’re going to try to win it. We’re not going to try to put someone in a scenario where he has to hit a 52 yard field goal. So it was a good call.”
A couple of runs and a spike set Milstein up for the dagger. Wagner called a timeout in an attempt to ice the sophomore, but Milstein coolly converted the attempt as the clock ran out and the Columbia sideline came roaring onto the field to greet him.