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Bears head to Big Apple for season finale

John Spooney ’14 and company look to salvage a winning season against a winless Columbia team

Coming off two close conference losses, the football team travels to Columbia this weekend for its final game of 2013. The team’s 26 seniors will put their pads on for the last time Saturday, looking to secure Bruno (5-4, Ivy 2-4) its sixth consecutive winning season.

Head Coach Phil Estes said the team has not specifically talked about this contest’s status as the season’s last game, but defensive end Michael Yules ’14 said the end of the year is on all the players’ minds.

“Everyone’s thinking about it,” he said. “We love playing with each other, and it will be a really fun and special day to put the pads on one last time.”

It has been a roller coaster of a year for the Bears. After a strong 3-1 start, Bruno gave away a 17-point lead in a loss to Ivy-leading Princeton (8-1, 6-0). Wins over Cornell (2-7, 1-5) and Penn (4-5, 3-3) propelled the squad back into the Ancient Eight mix, but the last two weeks have seen Bruno lose heartbreakers to Yale (5-4, 3-3) and Dartmouth (5-4, 4-2), putting Estes’ 12th winning season in jeopardy.

Running back John Spooney ’14 has been the offensive spark plug this year, leading the Ivy League in rushing yards per game. Spooney has rushed 100 yards in each of the past four games and needs just 16 yards to break the 1,000-yard mark for the year. Performances such as his 232-yard outing against Penn showed Spooney can be a game-changer, but Estes said he cannot carry the whole load.

“We’ve learned that when you’ve got a guy that’s talented like Spooney, you can’t throw the whole team on his shoulders,” he said. “It takes a team to get it done.”

If the team’s passing comes together, it could be a long game for the Columbia defense. Quarterback Patrick Donnelly ’14 ranks among the league’s top quarterbacks — second in completion percentage and third in yards per game — but has had some troubles the last two weeks. Donnelly’s numbers against Yale and Dartmouth were still impressive, but he overthrew receivers in some big spots.

“He needs to stay in the pocket and trust his protection,” Estes said of his signal-caller after referring to him as “antsy” following last weekend’s loss to Dartmouth. “He needs to trust himself that he is good enough to throw the ball downfield.”

Fans of big-hitting, hard-nose football should keep their eyes locked on the Lions’ backfield. Columbia has surrendered more sacks than any other team in the Ivy League, and Bruno features one of the conference’s stingiest defensive fronts, bookended by sack machines. Rushing one side is Yules, who ranks second in the Ivies in sacks, and rushing the other is John Bumpus ’14, who ranks fourth in the same category. If that doesn’t scare Columbia ball-carriers, linebacker Adewole Oyalowo ’14 has become known for his vicious hits and has the eighth-most tackles for loss in the conference.

All this leads to a Bruno defense that is “licking their chops,” Yules said. He added that the Bears expect to pin their ears back and pressure the quarterback in hopes of getting an early lead.

But a winless Columbia team could be dangerous if overlooked. Two years ago, the Lions did not win any of their first nine games but upended Bruno in New York in the last weekend of the season. Estes said that infamous loss to Columbia plays no factor this year, because the Bears have a completely new team.

And Spooney expressed little fear that history would repeat itself.

“We’ve learned … to take teams seriously,” he said. “We will go into Columbia with wisdom from a team full of seniors and a healthy respect for this Columbia team.”


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