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Bears hungry for win in final home game

Nine games into the season, the Bears have won awards, suffered injuries, practiced in rain and snow, dished out revenge and tasted some, gone scoreless in front of unfriendly crowds and triumphed for fans at home.

A lot has happened. There has been one drive behind it all - the same drive that will put the Bears (6-3, 3-3 Ivy) in battle array tomorrow afternoon against Columbia, when many of the team's seniors will take the Brown Stadium field for the last time.

"Win," said Head Coach Phil Estes. "That's what I hope to see. I hope to see us win."

Co-captain and defensive lineman Ross Walthall '13 is one of the 28 seniors hoping to tuck away one last victory. "We're just excited to strap it up one more time together and get a win," he said.

The Lions (3-6, 2-4) will feel the same hunger, looking to prove themselves once more on the heels of their convincing 34-17 victory over Cornell. With uncharacteristic prowess on both sides of the ball, Columbia generated nearly 400 yards on offense last weekend and held the Big Red to 244, a far cry from their average of 426.

A nearly even split between their passing and rushing gains during that game testified to a balanced Lions attack.

"They can throw it, they can run it with a very good back," Estes said.

Marcorus Garrett, the Lions' most productive rusher, is third in the Ivy League for yards per game. Garrett needs 99 more rushing yards to hit 1,000 for the season.

Lions quarterback Sean Brackett complements Garrett with an average of 189 passing yards per game, fourth highest in the league. And that number would likely be more impressive if the Lions could protect him better - Brackett has been sacked 29 times this fall, making him the most abused quarterback in the league.

Despite their respectable ability to move the ball downfield, Columbia has had trouble closing the deal this season, scoring an average of 15.4 points per game, which is the second lowest in the league. Bruno, with an average of 21.7, has struggled too. But Estes said quarterback Patrick Donnelly '13 has adjusted well to a Bears offense that has been shifting around him since September.

"I think Pat is a little more comfortable. He understands what these running backs can do," Estes said. "When you have all different running backs all the time, you never know what each guy can do."

The Bears' top five running backs have been playing musical chairs since Spiro Theodhosi '12.5 broke his foot during the fourth game of the season. Mark Kachmer '13, Cody Taulbee '14, Jordan Reisner '14 and Jeffrey Izon '13 have all been on and off the sidelines since.

"There were some rough patches at the beginning of the season," especially because of the injuries, Donnelly said. But "I think we've kind of grown throughout the year."

"We've just seen a team that can overcome a deficit or overcome losing somebody," Walthall said. "I think we've kind of developed a toughness, and a character has shown through."

Taulbee, Reisner and Izon were healthy enough to rush for a combined 103 yards last week in the Bears' victory at Dartmouth. But Donnelly took a good deal of the ground attack into his own hands, running for 48 yards and two touchdowns. Jonah Fay '13, Tellef Lundevall '13 and Jordan Evans '14 caught 17 passes for a combined 199 yards.

"Pat has really done a good job in the last couple of days, or in the last couple of games, of really taking control of the offense," Estes said. "At times, he has scrambled really well and really done great things with his feet, and then he's turned around and thrown the ball extremely well."

People have taken notice. The New England Football Writers' Gridiron Club of Greater Boston awarded Donnelly the Gold Helmet Award as New England's top player of the week for his performance against Dartmouth. 

That marks the third time a Bears player has won that award this season - the first two Gold Helmet Awards went to Theodhosi and Reisner. Donnelly was also named Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week.

"I don't really think about that too often, but I guess it's nice to get those honors," Donnelly said.

Looking toward Columbia, Donnelly said that if the team can "cut down on mistakes and penalties on offense, stick to the game plan, I think we'll be okay."

Estes expressed a similar focus. "Our offense just needs to not shoot themselves in the foot," he said. "We need to execute our offense and take away the penalties and not turn the ball over."

The Bears fumbled four times, losing the ball twice, and gave up 70 yards on seven penalties last weekend.

"That needs to stop," Estes said. "If we can play a nice, clean game, we're going to be fine."

On defense, Bruno looks to be as strong as ever. Second in the league for points allowed and third for yards allowed per game, the Bears had four sacks and 10 tackles for a loss against Dartmouth. They are second in the Football Championship Subdivision for the latter statistic, and they lead the Ancient Eight in interceptions with 12 this season. As has been the case for most of the season, the Bears may have less trouble keeping their opponent out of the end zone than getting there themselves.

But tactics aside, Donnelly said he wants a win this Saturday "by any means necessary."

Walthall said he felt a similar desire. "I just want to see all phases of the game played to the best of our ability," he said. "There are so many guys who just love the game of football and feel very grateful to play at this level. We have so many guys who love the game and don't take these kinds of chances for granted."

Donnelly said he wants "just to win, just to kind of leave the season, and our home field, the right way."



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