Columbia has somehow managed to win two football games this season without scoring a touchdown in either one. Freshman kicker Oren Milstein singlehandedly outscored Wagner and Dartmouth with field goals in two low-scoring affairs.
But on Saturday at Harvard Stadium, Columbia staked itself to a 14-7 lead heading into halftime, bolstered by a five-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Ronald Smith and a defensive score off a blocked punt.
The Lions’ early touchdown-fueled lead was ominous based on its 2016 track record, and sure enough Columbia continued its trend of losing high-scoring games. After a slow start, Harvard steamrolled its way through the third quarter to secure a 28-21 win.
THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM
At the end of the second quarter, senior quarterback Joe Viviano went under center at the goal line, a rarity in coach Tim Murphy’s system, and was sacked on fourth down. The Crimson trailed, 14-7, at the half, only its second halftime deficit of the season.
“We obviously didn’t play great offensively, defensively, or special teams in the first half,” Murphy said. “We talked it over at halftime… and came out and really did a good job with poise, confidence, and execution.”
The third quarter was ultimately the turning point in the game, and the beginning of the second half was marked by a wild sequence of events. On the kickoff, Lions returner Josh Wainwright fumbled and lost possession, only for Harvard to see a prime opportunity ripped out of its hands when Viviano was intercepted on the goal line.
On the ensuing drive, Columbia quarterback Anders Hill fumbled, and sophomore defensive tackle Scott Garrison recovered to give the Crimson another scoring chance. This time, Harvard capitalized with a touchdown from sophomore running back Charlie Booker. Two Columbia possessions later, Hill lost the ball again, and Harvard added seven more points.
All told, the Crimson tallied 21 points in the third quarter to overcome the Lions’ early lead.
A LIONIZED DEFENSE
Entering Saturday’s game, Columbia’s calling card was its defense.
In seven prior games, the Lions had surrendered 164 points, an average of 23.4 per game. This output appears mediocre at best, but it is skewed by a pair of blowouts against Penn and Princeton, two of the Ivy League’s top three offenses. In its three nonconference games and its 9-7 win over Dartmouth, Columbia conceded only 50 total points.
“We’ve played really well defensively for the majority of the game, and then sooner or later I think you get a little bit tired out,” Lions coach Al Bagnoli said. “But honestly if you just look at all of the high-powered offenses early, we’ve done a pretty nice job of bottling them up.”
Though the Crimson came up with a final tally of 28 points, Columbia’s ball security was really to blame. If Harvard had not been allowed to capitalize on three critical third-quarter turnovers, the Crimson would have been hard-pressed to put so many points on the board.
“We’ve got to make sure that, if nothing else, we value and possess the football,” Bagnoli said. “I think in that area we need a dramatic improvement. It put us in very dire straits today against a very good team.”
The dominance of the Lions’ defense shone through on Harvard’s first few possessions. Viviano struggled to hit his targets, and he made no progress running the ball himself. The Berwyn, Pennsylvania, native finished the contest with a paltry six yards rushing on 19 attempts.
Columbia forced Harvard to send junior punter Zach Schmid onto the field a staggering 11 times, the most punt attempts in a game for the Crimson this season. Lions linebacker Michael Murphy blocked a punt in the second quarter, allowing fellow freshman Hunter Lunsford to scoop the ball up and head to the end zone for a defensive score.
While a 109-yard shot may be trivial for PGA Tour golfer Adam Scott, 109 yards marks a remarkable performance for sophomore wide receiver Adam Scott.
The Denton, Texas, native racked up that yardage on only seven catches, and he added two touchdowns and a crucial catch that set up another score.
Scott was the key to Harvard’s offense on Saturday, and his two scores illustrate the dynamic effect he can have on the Crimson offense.
On one hand, he excels at exploding off the line to beat cornerbacks. In the first quarter, he put Harvard on top by outstripping his defender to the end zone and grabbing a perfectly-placed Viviano pass.
But catching the deep ball is not the only facet of Scott’s game. In the third quarter, he extended Harvard’s lead by catching a short screen pass out to the right and weaving his way down the sideline for six points.
Columbia’s secondary was a real threat in the early going, but Scott burned the opposing defensive backs several times in key spots.
“We knew going in we were going to have to make big plays in order to win,” Scott said. “I studied the film and made sure I knew exactly how to get off the line.”
—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at email@example.com.
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