Coming into Saturday’s game against Columbia, the football team had not tasted victory in Ivy league play since Nov. 12, 2016, when it defeated Dartmouth on the road. But against the Lions, the Bears had the look of a seasoned winning squad, dominating Columbia 48-24 to end a streak of 20 consecutive conference losses.
The win was the first in the tenure of new Head Coach James Perry ’00, whose team came painfully close to victories against Cornell and Penn earlier this season.
Defensive Lineman Michael Hoecht ’20 was part of a senior class that had not earned an Ivy League win since their rookie seasons. “It feels incredible,” Hoecht said. “We put in the work to deserve a lot of wins, and we finally put one together.”
Bruno (2-7, 1-5 Ivy) was firing on all cylinders from the opening kickoff, producing a dominant first quarter on both sides of the ball. On just the second play from scrimmage, linebacker Malcolm Brunson ’23 stripped the football from Lions quarterback Ty Lenhart. Defensive back Nicholas Messina ’22 scooped up the fumble and ran 38 yards into the end zone to give the Bears an early lead. On Brown’s first offensive possession, a 35-yard reception by Livingstone Harriott ’20 helped the Bears advance down the field, and running back Allen Smith ’22 rumbled into the end zone for a five-yard score. Later in the quarter, a two-yard rushing touchdown by quarterback EJ Perry ’22 off of a play-action fake extended Bruno’s lead to 21-0 less than eight minutes into the game. Brown maintained the shutout as the quarter drew to a close when Columbia’s Alex Felkins missed a short field goal.
Columbia (3-6, 2-4 Ivy) refused to fold, and stormed back into the game in the second quarter with 17 unanswered points. Felkins rebounded with a 35-yard field goal to get the Lions on the scoreboard. Columbia running back Ryan Young scored the Lions’ first touchdown by sprinting away from a trio of Brown defenders for a 49-yard score. With three minutes left in the half, Lenhart connected with receiver Josh Wainwright for a 34-yard touchdown strike to cut Bruno’s lead to 21-17.
The Bears’ offense finally got back on track before halftime. Brown’s offensive line opened up a gaping hole for Smith, who galloped down the field nearly untouched for a 70-yard score. Bruno headed to the locker with an 11-point advantage.
The Lions opened second-half scoring with a highlight-reel flea-flicker play. Lenhart handed the ball off to Wainwright, who pitched the ball to receiver Mozes Mooney, who then pitched the ball back to Lenhart. The Lions signal-caller then completed a short pass back to Wainwright, who broke a tackle and sprinted free for a 44-yard touchdown. With that play, the momentum appeared to be back on Columbia’s side.
But for the first time this season, Bruno avoided a second-half collapse. Instead, the Brown offense exploded for 20 more points while the defense shut down the Lions for the remainder of the game. Perry put Brown back up by two possessions with a 49-yard bomb to receiver Jakob Prall ’20. A blocked extra point kept the score at 34-24, but the Bears quickly added to their lead again with another passing touchdown by Perry. The junior quarterback rolled out of the pocket and heaved a cross-body throw to Harriott for an improbable 10-yard score. Brown put the finishing touches on its win before the third quarter was over, as Perry found receiver Demitri Jackson ’20 for his third passing touchdown of the day. That score extended Brown’s lead to 48-24, where it would remain for the rest of the contest.
“We’re getting better,” James Perry said. “We’re a much better team than we were five weeks ago (or) six weeks ago. We’ve practiced hard and worked hard to do that.”
Brown put up an impressive statistical performance in its blowout win, boasting a 300-yard passer in EJ Perry, an 100-yard rusher in Smith and an 100-yard receiver in Harriott. “Every week we get more comfortable in the system,” EJ Perry said. “We’re executing at a higher level.” EJ Perry broke the school record for single-season total offense in the contest, and remains the FCS leader in total offense.
The Brown defense, which allowed its season-low in points, was led by Brunson, who finished with nine tackles. The defense “got some nice turnovers, which is a big point of emphasis for us,” James Perry said. “(Defensive back) Cooper DeVeau ’23 had another terrific game … he had a number of really nice plays.”
The football team will close out its season at home with a Senior Day showdown against Dartmouth. The Big Green held an 8-0 record entering this weekend, but suffered its first loss of the season to Cornell Saturday. Bruno will look to end its season on a high note against its conference rivals from Hanover.