Football extended its magical run to start the season with an improbable, come-from-behind 34-31 win over Penn to extend its record to 5-0.
With the Lions driving down the field in overtime, senior signal-caller Anders Hill knew he had sophomore wide receiver Josh Wainwright open over the middle on third and nine from the 24.
Needing at least a field goal to extend the game, Hill found Wainwright over the middle. The sophomore lunged over the goal line, and Columbia finished out the unlikely victory as students and alumni rushed the field.
The Lions (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) were down by 14 points with 10:55 remaining in the fourth quarter but scored touchdowns on three consecutive drives to take a lead with 4:11 on the clock. After sophomore tight end Rory Schlageter collected his first career touchdown to put the Lions in front 28-21, Penn (2-3, 0-2 Ivy) drove down the length of the field and the Quakers’ quarterback Will Fischer-Colbrie found senior wide receiver Justin Watson in the back of the end zone to tie the score at 28 apiece.
The Lions would have just 1:21 on the clock left looking to finish the game in regulation, but a 46-yard hail mary attempt with two seconds fell harmlessly to the ground, inciting an overtime period.
After winning the coin toss, the Lions elected to send their defense on the field. On the first play of overtime, sophomore linebacker Michael Murphy made perhaps the play of the game with a tackle for loss on the first play of overtime, as Murphy sniffed out a screen to his left side and tackled Watson for a loss of seven yards, placing Penn 17 yards from the marker.
Columbia would stop the Quakers on two consecutive plays and forced them into a field goal, holding Penn to just three points after Jack Soslow’s kick sailed through the uprights.
After Columbia got the ball back on the 25-yard line, the Lions gained just one yard on two measly rushing plays. That set the scene for Hill, who would find Wainwright and give Columbia its second consecutive Homecoming victory, and first victory over Penn since 1997.
The Lions came undefeated into Homecoming for the first time since 1996, when they defeated Lafayette 3-0 in a torrential downpour. This year the result was the same, with the Light Blue making a remarkable offensive turnaround.
Penn came out guns blazing in the first half, scoring on two of their first three drives. After Hill threw behind Wainwright and Quaker linebacker Brian O’Neill caught the errant pass, Penn stormed up the field and scored the opening points of the game when Fischer-Colbrie ran it in from two yards out. The following drive, running back Karekin Brooks scored another touchdown on the ground for the Quakers.
But after their worst 30 minutes of football all year, the Lions showed tenacity that the Light Blue faithful haven’t seen since last century.
The Lions had a monster second half defensively, catapulted by the performance of two young linebackers—Murphy and first-year Justin Woodley, who helped the Lions force four turnovers in the second half. Murphy excelled, leading the Light Blue with 11 total tackles. The Tampa, Florida native also recovered two fumbles. Woodley picked off Penn quarterback Will Fischer-Colbrie twice.
The next Light Blue drive was integral for Columbia. Hill found Wainwright over the middle on an inside post route for 41 yards, which set up an eventual first and goal situation for the Lions. The Light Blue were able to run the exact same play four times in a row—first-year quarterback Josh Bean ran up the gut with 10 blockers ahead of him. After three unsuccessful attempts, Bean finally found the end zone and put Columbia on the board.
After Bean scored the touchdown, it seemed that the Lions had found their footing—but that wasn’t the case. Throughout the third quarter, the Light Blue offense could not get anything going. On the first drive of the second half, Hill lost his helmet forcing him to leave the field for one game. Junior quarterback Ryan Suitt came in and immediately threw an interception. Penn linebacker Nick Miller caught the poor pass and ran it back 25 yards for a Quaker touchdown.
Out of four Light Blue drives in the third quarter, only one play went for more than seven yards. Hill and offense struggled immensely to complete short range passes, and both sophomore Lynnard Rose and senior Chris Schroer couldn’t make anything happen from the backfield.
The Columbia defense was especially solid in the second half, as it allowed just seven points. Junior free safety Ryan Gilbert and senior captain strong safety Landon Baty both forced fumbles and the Light Blue recovered each time.
The fourth quarter is when the offensive juices finally began flowing. On their first two fourth-quarter drives, the Lions scored. Bean ran for another touchdown following a Columbia interception from Woodley. On the first play of the following drive, Hill found Wainwright on a 59-yard deep post, and the sophomore high stepped into the end zone to tie the game, 21-21.
The Penn offense quaked in its boots returning to the field, and its fear became actualized when Fischer-Colbrie faced intense pressure from the Light Blue defensive line and threw a lob pass straight to Woodley for his second pick of the afternoon. On the ensuing drive, Hill found sophomore tight end Rory Schlageter for his first career catch in the end zone, making the score 28-21, giving the Light Blue its first lead of the game, and 21-0 streak in the fourth quarter.
Even though the Lions had the momentum, the Quakers were not ready to back down. Fischer-Colbrie led the Quakers on an eight-play, 80-yard drive, culminating in Fischer-Colbrie finding wide receiver Justin Watson on an outside post in the back of the end zone for a score, tying the game 28-28.
On the following possession, Hill and the Columbia offense faced a crucial third and three in its own half, but Penn jumped early on the snap for an offsides penalty, giving the Light Blue a first down and more opportunities to get down the field. After a series of short passing plays, Hill found Wainwright over the middle for 10 yards and a first down. Hill attempted a Hail Mary to end regular time, but the ball fell short and overtime commenced.
The Lions won the coin toss and elected for the Quakers to take the ball first. On the first play of the overtime period, Murphy built on his already remarkable day, tackling Watson in the backfield for a loss of seven. The staunch Light Blue defense remained solid and only held the Penn offense to three points following Penn kicker Soslow’s field goal.
On the Light Blue’s next drive, history was made. Hill’s pass to Wainwright lifted Columbia to its first 5-0 start of the century.
The Lions will continue their exceptional season next Saturday, away at Dartmouth. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m.