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On Senior Day, Football close season against winless Lions

Bruno aims to end season with level record, taking on Columbia’s muted offense, porous defense

The football team’s season has not gone the way anyone wanted, but there is an excellent shot it may end on a high note Saturday.

The Bears (4-5, 2-4 Ivy) play host to Columbia (0-9, 0-6) in the season finale Saturday with an opportunity to get their final record back up to .500.

The season has had its ups and downs for Bruno. Beginning with a loss to traditional doormat Georgetown (2-8, 0-5 Patriot) on the road, it has trended upward since. The Bears were nearly able to knock off both Harvard and Yale, who will square off in Cambridge this weekend with the Ivy title on the line. Bruno handled the opponents it should have, beating Penn on the road and hammering Cornell at home. But inconsistency reared its ugly head, and quarter-long lapses turned should-be close games against Dartmouth and Princeton into significant losses.

“We ended up being a work in progress,” said Head Coach Phil Estes P’18. “There were times we made a lot of progress, and there were other times we had a few setbacks.”
Fortunately for the Bears, they are scheduled to face Columbia to cap their season.

If Bruno’s season has been challenging, the Lions’ has been exponentially more so. They were winless last season, though things started looking up with the arrival of Stanford University transfer Brett Nottingham. The quarterback nearly won a competition in Palo Alto to succeed Andrew Luck as quarterback of the Cardinals but transferred to Columbia after losing out on the job. Nottingham missed all of the 2013 season after suffering a broken wrist in his first game, and 2014 was supposed to be his breakout season.

But Nottingham struggled, completing just 48.7 percent of his passes and throwing one touchdown to seven interceptions in five games. When Head Coach Pete Mangurian told him he was being benched, he quit the team. Columbia’s new starter Trevor McDonagh has not been much better, completing 51.1 percent of his passes and throwing seven touchdowns to 10 interceptions.

Columbia’s offense has been abysmal. The team ranks last in the Ivy League with an average of 10.7 points per game and barely edged Cornell for seventh in yards per game at 276.3. Even these figures may be inflated: The Lions have broken seven points just twice this season. One game was a 61-28 loss to Monmouth University (5-5, 0-4 Big South) that was 61-7 in the fourth quarter. The second was last week against Cornell, where the Lions trailed 21-0 before storming back to grab a 27-23 lead at the end of the third quarter. Columbia gave up a touchdown and failed to score in the fourth, finishing with a narrow 30-27 loss.

The Lions’ defense has been as much of a problem as its offense. Columbia ranks last in the conference in points per game given up, 38.7, and yards allowed, 495.8. The defense was able to limit high-powered Yale to just 25 points, and Dartmouth to 27. But neither game was particularly close, so their opponents may simply have taken their foot off the gas pedal. Harvard dropped 45 on the Lions in a shutout win, and Penn was able to score 31 while barely managing 13 against Bruno.

While the Lions might lend themselves to being taken lightly, Bruno won’t do it.

“They’re a good football team,” said co-captain Dan Giovacchini ’15.

“We’re not going to allow them to come in here and … steal a game from us because we’re taking them lightly,” Estes said. “We’re taking them just like they’re the best team in the league.”

After a blowout loss to Dartmouth, in which quarterback Marcus Fuller ’15 was harassed on every dropback, Bruno turned the ball over twice and the defense gave up 44 points. The Bears have some improvements to make.

“We can’t turn the ball over and expect to win football games,” Estes said.

But the Bears’ task will be somewhat easier on the defensive side of the ball, as star corner Jacob Supron ’15 returns from a leg injury. Estes said it’s likely Supron will play, though not on every down.

Seth Rosenbauer ’16, the backup quarterback turned running back, also returns to full strength and will bolster a Bruno rush attack that had only 107 yards against Dartmouth.
On paper, the Bears are clearly a better team than Columbia in all facets of the game. But “these are trap games for us,” Giovacchini said, adding that this is “something we’re cognizant of.”

One thing is clear: if Bruno plays like it can, it should end the year with a win.

“We need to execute the offense and defense, and if we do that, and we do it the way I know we can, then we’ll have a good game,” Estes said.

Kickoff at Brown Stadium is at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.


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