Looking to win their third consecutive game and end the season on a high note, the Bears came out charged Saturday afternoon, defeating Columbia 22-6 at Brown Stadium. The victory catapulted Bruno to a third-place finish in the Ivy League, a spot it shares with Dartmouth and Princeton, marking the team's sixth straight season with a winning record in the conference.
Inside linebacker Stephen Zambetti '13 - one of 28 seniors who were honored in a ceremony before their last kickoff in Bears uniforms - said the game was filled with "a lot of emotion" for the team. Zambetti added that it was the last time the seniors would be able to showcase their commitment and hard work, explaining that "we do a lot of work for the small amount of time we have to perform."
And with a double-overtime loss to the Lions that crushed their hopes at an Ivy title last season still fresh in their minds, the Bears had even more incentive to perform, with Head Coach Phil Estes citing a motivation to "redeem last year" after the game. But Columbia had motivation of its own, hoping to grab a win to avoid finishing in the basement of the Ivy League.
Hot off an unexpected victory over Cornell the week before, the Lions (3-7, 2-5 Ivy) struck first against the Bears (7-3, 4-3 Ivy), scoring field goals on two consecutive first-quarter drives. The first attempt came late in the first after quarterback Sean Brackett connected on a 32-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Chris Connors to put the Lions into the red zone. Though a false start reversed some of that progress, kicker Luke Eddy had no trouble nailing the 27-yard score to put his team up 3-0.
The Lions secured great field position on their next possession when the Bears were called for a 15-yard penalty on the punt. Though the Bruno defense managed a critical stop on third-and-three to keep its opponent out of the end zone, Marcorus Garrett's 28 rushing yards earlier in the drive brought the Lions close enough for the field goal. Miller split the uprights on a 30-yard attempt, widening the Bears' deficit to 6-0.
Brackett said he was pleased with the team's early performance. "We executed our game plan pretty well in the first half," he said.
Meanwhile, Estes said that he was worried about the small deficit early in the game.
As a coach, "I'm always concerned," he said. "I was even concerned when it was 0-0."
But with Bruno going on to score 22 unanswered points, the concern must have gradually receded as the game wore on.
Quarterback Patrick Donnelly '13 took control on the Bears' first drive of the second quarter, directing an explosive 76-yard touchdown drive in just over two and a half minutes. Jordan Evans '14 came up with a big 24-yard reception to move the ball over the midfield line, but it was a 29-yard catch in the end zone by Jonah Fay '12.5 that gave the Bears a lead they would never relinquish.
Estes commended Donnelly's effort in front of what he considered a good Columbia defense.
"Patrick read the coverage very well," he said. "We knew they had a great pass rush, so we moved the pocket a lot, changing the launch point of the ball."
After preventing the Lions from converting on a fourth-down attempt on the next possession, the Bears took control again. Following an 11-yard run by Jeffrey Izon '13, a tailback who became increasingly important to the injury-plagued Bruno rushing game, Fay got wide open to make a 23-yard catch in the end zone.
Though the touchdown was called back on an illegal motion penalty against the Bears, Donnelly ran a similar play to get the ball 29 yards to an undefended Evans and extend Bruno's advantage to 14-6.
Columbia head coach Pete Mangurian spoke highly of the Bears' versatility and ability to make game-changing plays. "It doesn't matter if it was first, second, third or fourth down - they made big plays," he said.
And the big plays continued in the second half. Bruno extended its lead on the first drive of the third quarter after Andrew Marks '14 lunged forward to grab a phenomenal 22-yard touchdown reception. Instead of going for the extra point, the Bears tried their luck at a two-point conversion. Alexander Phelan '14 made it look easy, darting into the end zone to put the final points of the game on the board and move Bruno ahead 22-6.
Two Bears turnovers - one interception and one fumble - gave the Lions some hope later in the half, but they failed to establish any sort of offensive rhythm.
"We've had quite a few turnovers this season, but we just focused on getting fundamentals down," Zambetti said. "The defense has to trust the offense and vice versa."
Brackett was sacked four times in the second half, with three of those coming on important third-down plays.
"Protection was an issue, and Sean was under pressure the whole day," Mangurian said. "They're a good team on defense - there's no doubt about it."
Though the Bears will be ending their season with the same overall record they had last year, Estes said the circumstances of this year's finish are far more positive, citing last season's late back-to-back losses to Dartmouth and Columbia.
"We don't have to judge a season on whether or not we won a title," Estes said. "This was a good season."