NEW YORK—In a game where there were nearly as many punts, 20, as completed passes, 22, football did just enough to edge past Yale, 17-10, on a rainy day at Wien Stadium. This marked the Light Blue’s first Ivy League victory of the year, avenging last season’s 24-6 defeat to the Bulldogs.
Nonetheless, like every other game so far this season, Saturday’s victory took its toll on the Lions (4-3, 1-3 Ivy).
Senior fourth-string quarterback Ryan Suitt was carted off the field after landing on his head on a hard tackle in the third quarter and junior fifth-string quarterback Matt Dame was forced into action for the first time in his career. Joining Suitt in the injury column was junior running back Lynnard Rose, who was injured at the end of the first quarter.
Despite these setbacks, Columbia put itself in a position to secure the victory riding a fourth- and fifth-string quarterback and a fourth-string running back, first-year Ryan Young.
“The things that have happened to us this year have been staggering,” head coach Al Bagnoli said. “Somehow we keep finding a way to get ourselves picked up. This was a tremendous win. It was really a combination of being good in the kick game, continually pinning them deep down field, making enough plays on offense, kids stepping up when they had to step up, and making enough stops on defense.”
In dramatic fashion, the fate of the game was decided in the final minute. When Yale quarterback Jimmy Check dropped back with 37 seconds remaining, he looked to the end zone to tie up the game, but the ball ended up in the hands of senior safety Ryan Gilbert. Gilbert doubled over in the end zone, clutching the ball and sealing the Light Blue victory. It was football’s first win over Yale since 2015 during Bagnoli’s first season at Columbia.
In his limited action, Suitt could not replicate the performance that garnered him much praise from Bagnoli last week against Dartmouth. He finished 3-of-16 passing for just 32 yards and lost a combined 18 yards on his rushes in addition to getting sacked three times. Amid the difficult conditions, he looked lost in the pocket but even worse outside, fumbling twice while trying to escape pressure. The only explanation for his lack of interceptions was that his throws were too errant to pick.
With seemingly every star quiet or hurting, the majority of the offensive production fell to unheralded hands. Young and sophomore tight end Casey Mariucci both stepped up to fill the widening gaps in the Lions’ ranks and ultimately accounted for 141 out of the Lions’ 160 total yards from scrimmage.
Rose’s absence allowed Young to accrue 19 carries for a game-high 91 rushing yards. Mariucci, meanwhile, was the only Lion with more than one receiving yard, netting 50 on his three catches.
The Light Blue opened the scoring in the first quarter on a career-long 51-yard field goal—the second-longest field goal in Columbia history—by star senior kicker Chris Alleyne. From there it was all punts for both teams—eight in a row—until a 2-yard touchdown run from Yale running back Alan Lamar broke the drought. The Bulldogs threatened again on their next drive, nearly hitting the endzone again but ran out of time and opted to kick a field goal before halftime.
A blocked Yale punt midway through the third quarter set the Light Blue up at the Bulldog 30-yard line. Columbia capitalized with two Suitt-to-Mariucci connections to tie the game—a leaping 15-yard catch on a post over the middle and a 16-yard deep out toward the left pylon that saw the tight end box out a safety and tiptoe the sideline for his second career score. Those marked two of Suitt’s three completions on the day and his only two receptions that went for more than a yard.
The tie-breaking score came on an impressive 30-yard run by Young. He took a simple handoff up the middle, juked out a linebacker, and hit daylight in the second level before a safety jumped on him. Rather than slow down, Young simply brushed the defender off like an insect and kept his balance just long enough to stumble into the endzone. It would be the final score in a game defined by defense and field position battles.
On a day with limited highlights, the Lions, ravaged by injury, relied heavily on an unlikely hero to deliver—sophomore punter Drew Schmid. The San Diego, California native had a career day, launching seven of his 11 punts inside the Yale 20, giving the Light Blue defense some breathing room and significantly hindering most Bulldog drives. His 65-yarder at the end of the first half was the second-longest punt in Columbia history.
Columbia’s average starting field position was its own 35-yard line—Yale’s, meanwhile, was just inside its own 20. Schmid helping the Lions dominate the field position battle allowed the team to prevail despite a relatively stagnant offensive game.
Despite being outgained from scrimmage 428-160, the Light Blue defense was able to make big plays when it counted. Gilbert and his fellow safety, senior captain Landon Baty, were all over the field for the Lions. The two combined for 17 tackles, each adding an interception and Baty a tackle for loss for good measure.
Columbia had six tackles for loss and two sacks, giving up chunk plays to the Bulldogs for much of the game but stuffing them for negative yardage when it counted.
Ultimately, on a day where the weather, the injury report, and the yardage count were all against the Lions, the team stepped up and made just enough big plays to win. For Bagnoli and his players, this may have been just what they needed to provide some hope in what has largely been a frustrating season thus far.
“People thought that [since] we lost three games, the culture is reverting back,” Baty said. “But little do they know that this is what we built, this is where we are, and this is the program that we have today. It’s a testament to the everyone that put in the energy. This is a huge win and I’m fired up, obviously.”