CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—On the first play from scrimmage, Harvard quarterback Tom Stewart found wide receiver Jack Cook for a 92-yard touchdown pass, setting the tone for a rough Columbia afternoon.
An injury-ravaged season for head coach Al Bagnoli and football has officially entered the development phase. Despite suffering a lopsided 52-18 loss in Harvard stadium, one that saw the Light Blue give up four passing touchdowns in the first half alone, a youthful Columbia team can still glean quite a few positives.
The box score tells a story of Harvard (4-4, 2-2 Ivy) domination from the outset, but in reality the hurting and overmatched Lions fared reasonably well under the circumstances. Columbia (4-4, 1-3 Ivy) moved the ball well in the first half, netting 233 total yards at a clip of 5.2 yards-per-play. Two major issues completely hamstrung the Light Blue hopes, however: the pass defense and the red zone offense.
Stewart never let up after that first throw. He tossed touchdowns of 75 and 74 yards on two of the three ensuing drives, and closed the half with a 16-yard end zone strike to put the Crimson up 28-12. His first-half statistical profile was more befitting of a full game from a NFL star: 342 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers.
Senior safety and two-year captain Landon Baty was disappointed with the lethargy from the secondary unit.
“Coming into the game, I didn’t feel like we brought energy. We kind of rolled over from last week,” Baty said. “Everyone was pretty hyped up to play Harvard....We didn’t make plays when we needed to and it rolled up on us.”
Meanwhile, the Lions entered the matchup with its fourth different starting quarterback of the year, first-year Ty Lenhart. Lenhart had spent much of the beginning of the season as the nominal short-yardage quarterback, notching six touchdowns to date inside the 5-yard line.
A litany of injuries forced the inexperienced signal-caller into action, and while his 51.3 percent completion rate and two interceptions don’t exactly paint a rosy picture of his play, he managed to lead the Lions to five red-zone trips in the first half. Those five trips resulted in two field goals, a touchdown with a missed extra point, a missed field goal, and a turnover on downs—a total of 12 points that couldn’t cut it against the explosive Harvard attack and a continuation of the Lions’ season-long inability to capitalize in the red-zone.
Bagnoli recognized how tough Lenhart’s job was, praising the young quarterback for his resilience in the face of such a large deficit.
“I thought Ty has stepped up, did a nice job against a really good front four, very good front sveen for that matter,” Bagnoli said. “He's gonna make mistakes, he's a young kid, but overall i think he has shown some progress and hopefully he'll continue to increase his development and push forward.”
Truly, the 28-12 halftime score didn’t show how well the team had played—even excluding a fluke loss of 49 yards by the Crimson on a dropped field goal attempt, the Light Blue held Harvard to just -0.4 yards-per-carry in the first half and consistently won the field position battle. A failed 4th down conversion at the Harvard 19, a dropped extra point, and a missed field goal by star senior kicker Chris Alleyne all prohibited a scoreline more indicative of the Lions’ solid play.
The second half, though, was all Harvard. Amidst 30 mile-per-hour winds, the Crimson tacked on three additional touchdowns—one apiece for running backs Aaron Shampklin and Charlie Booker and another 10-yard pass from Stewart for good measure. The Lions netted 72 yards from scrimmage in the second half and pushed the ball into Harvard territory just twice.
The Lions’ offense mostly relied on short throws from Lenhart to put the ball in the hands of skill position playmakers. Sophomore receiver Emerson Kabus had 5 receptions for 103 yards, all of which came in the first half, while senior receiver Kyle Castner picked up 38 yards through the air, ran for a touchdown, and threw a 13-yard completion. Lenhart’s limitations necessitated some creativity from offensive coordinator Mark Fabish, who at one point in the second quarter called a triple-reverse that ended up in a 23-yard completion from Lenhart to Kabus.
The ground game never got going for Columbia—Harvard simply stacked the box and dared Lenhart to beat them through the air, knowing full well his accuracy issues and the wind conditions made that possibility highly unlikely. First-year running back Ryan Young, the star of last week’s win over Yale, picked up just 43 yards on 13 carries, running hard without much room to operate. Sophomore running back Marquavious Moore turned his four second-half runs into 59 yards, providing some spark for the defeated Lions in garbage time.
The Lions’ defensive backs, so strong to begin the season, were burned repeatedly in man coverage by seemingly every eligible Harvard receiver. Four Crimson skill position players finished with at least 74 yards through the air, with Stewart’s final line sitting at 393 yards passing and 5 touchdowns. Despite the strong run defense in the first half, the Light Blue defensive line rarely pressured Stewart, allowing him time to pick the secondary apart at will.
Bagnoli saw the result as stemming from both effort and a tough matchup.
“We were fighting uphill the entire game,” Bagnoli said. “Since the first play of the game we were trying to play catch-up. Hopefully we can play a little bit closer to how we've been playing, with a little bit more energy and passion and fire.”
Ultimately, while football was statistically eliminated from winning its second-ever Ivy League title with today’s defeat, its schedule will get significantly easier with Brown and Cornell upcoming.
The team will hit the road again next weekend, traveling to Providence with a showdown against the Bears. Play will begin Saturday Nov. 10 at noon.