Facing off against a Columbia team that won only twice this year, the football team entered Saturday’s game against the Lions looking for a fifth win and a .500 finish to its season.
Despite Columbia’s (2-8, 1-6 Ivy) .200 final winning percentage, it emerged as a more dangerous opponent than in past years. The Lions did not record any wins in 2013 or 2014, only ending a 24-game losing streak this year. The Bears (5-5, 3-4) entered the game with confidence but did not underestimate their opponent.
“We knew it was a tough matchup,” said quarterback Marcus Fuller ’15.5. “Columbia had played every team in the league very very tough, including the top teams.”
The Lions have “a lot of very good players, including a great running back, which was going to present a challenge for us,” he added.
The Bears struck on their first offensive play of the night. Following a touchback, running back Seth Rosenbauer ’16 took a handoff from Fuller and powered through Columbia’s defense, taking it 75 yards for a touchdown. The Bears led 7-0 with 14:47 on the clock.
Grant Senne’s ’16 kickoff pinned Columbia deep in its own territory at its 3-yard line. On Columbia’s first offensive play, center Bewley Wales sent the snap over quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg’s head and into the end zone. Defensive lineman Ludovic Richardson ’16 pounced on the ball for a touchdown. Senne nailed the extra point, putting Brown up 14-0 after only 21 seconds of clock time.
“It’s critical for us to be able to jump out to an early lead,” Fuller said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to parlay that into an even bigger lead. The challenge any time you’re up by a big amount early in the game is keeping the foot on the throat and being able to continue that momentum.”
After Brown’s early scoring onslaught, the two teams began trading punts. Five drives in a row ended in punts before a throw by Fuller from inside his own 10-yard line was intercepted by Columbia’s Travis Reim. The Lions started their drive in favorable field position at Brown’s 38-yard line, and a few plays later they had first-and-goal after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty put them at the four.
Columbia’s Cameron Molina rushed for three yards on first down but was stopped for no gain twice in a row. On fourth down — one yard from a touchdown — the Lions elected not to attempt a field goal and handed the ball to Molina once again.
This time, the Bears’ defense could not stop Molina. He scored, and the Lions converted the PAT, bringing the Lions within a touchdown.
The Bears broke through once again halfway through the second quarter. Columbia started its drive at its own 12-yard line, and Molina rushed for eight yards on third-and-three. But his run was called back due to offensive holding.
After an incomplete pass, the Lions faced fourth-and-12 and brought out their punt unit. But Sam Russell ’17 broke through Columbia’s punt protection, blocking the punt and taking it into the end zone to put the Bears two touchdowns ahead.
“We saw on film that their punting technique was sort of to wait until the very last moment until the rush was there as a way to let their coverage team get down the field to stop the return,” Fuller said. “We had seen that during practice, and we ended up bringing an extra guy off the edge.”
“He came unblocked and made a great play,” Fuller added. “Special teams was huge for us in all phases of the game.”
The Bears led 21-7, but Columbia took the ball with 7:12 remaining in the first half and executed a lengthy drive, scoring just before halftime. The Bears went to the locker room with a 21-14 lead.
As the second half began, Bruno’s defense took over, forcing two three-and-outs in a row and then another punt. With 10:05 to play in the quarter, Fuller hit Troy Doles ’16 for a 26-yard touchdown, putting the Bears up 14 once again. The Bears held Columbia to just a field goal in the quarter and began the fourth with a 28-17 lead, optimistic that they could hold the lead for a win.
“Overall, this group has a ton of confidence in each other, regardless of the state of the game,” Fuller said. “We feel like when the ball’s in our hands, we can make plays. And when we’re on defense, we can come up with the stops when we need to.”
After a pair of punts to open the fourth, Columbia mounted another drive. With 5:12 remaining in the game, Mornhinweg hit Hollis Scooter from 35 yards out. A two-point conversion would bring the Lions, who were down five points after the touchdown, within a field goal. But the Bears’ goal-line defense held strong, and the score remained 28-23.
The Bears took the kickoff but were stopped once again, and they punted the ball away with 2:55 remaining in the game. Starting at its own 30-yard line, Columbia efficiently marched down the field. The Lions moved the ball 47 yards in less than two minutes, and after a holding penalty brought them inside the red zone, Mornhinweg hit Molina at the Bears’ five-yard line on first down, setting up second-and-one.
“The game was in the balance there,” Fuller said. “But our defense has done a great job of bending but not breaking all year. I couldn’t be prouder of those guys, being able to come up with a stop at a critical juncture like that.”
With Columbia five yards away from what would be effectively a game-winning touchdown, the Bears’ defense did not give in. Molina’s running had confounded the Bears all game, but Columbia — with no time outs remaining — opted to stick to passing.
“Without any timeouts, I certainly understand why they opted not to run the ball there,” Fuller said. “But I was surprised, to a degree.”
After two incompletions in a row, Mornhinweg dropped back to throw on fourth-and-one. He looked to the end zone but did not find any of his receivers. Instead, he found Will Quigley ’16, who intercepted the pass in the end zone with five seconds remaining to seal the win for the Bears.
“It was a great capstone for (Quigley) and for that class in general,” Fuller said. “He’s a free safety, and this year we had a need at cornerback.”
“For him to come down with the big, critical play that caps his career off was great to watch,” he said. “It’s a testament to all the hard work and team spirit that he has.”
The game was over one play later, and the Bears had finished the season with a win and a .500 record. The victory ensured that the Bears would end the season on a win rather than a four-game losing streak.
“For us to go out as a winner — that’s something that all the seniors looked at during the week and put that at the top of our priority list,” Fuller said. “It’s a beautiful thing that we can look back in five, 10 years and know that we went out as winners. I really enjoyed playing with these guys — it was a nice end to my career.”