NEW YORK – If you’re going to end a 20-game series losing streak, this is probably the way you would want to script it. Columbia hadn’t beaten Penn since 1996. That was also the last time the Lions started a season with four wins.
Now, they’re 5-0, having beaten both of the co-defending Ivy League champions.
Two weeks ago, Columbia got past Princeton on a 63-yard touchdown pass with just more than a minute to go. Saturday afternoon at Wien Stadium, the Lions finally put away the Quakers on a 24-yard scoring pass and won in overtime, 34-31.
“Obviously it’s a signature win for our program,” said third-year coach Al Bagnoli, who won nine Ivy titles in 23 seasons as Penn coach and was responsible for inflicting most of that two-decade drought by the Lions. “I know the story line because I used to work there. We can’t worry about what’s happened [in the past]. This is today. Everything is different.”
The Quakers (2-3, 0-2) have lost three straight since putting up 65 points at Lehigh. Two weeks ago, they dropped their Ivy opener at home to Dartmouth on a 1-yard touchdown run on the last play. This time, they led by 14. Twice. But the Lions (5-0, 2-0) scored three touchdowns in a span of 6 1/2 minutes in the fourth quarter to go in front for the first time.
Then, Penn – which had four turnovers, two of which set Columbia up at its 39- and 19-yard lines – moved 80 yards on seven plays to tie things with 1 minute, 21 seconds showing on a 17-yard pass from Will Fischer-Colbrie to Justin Watson.
The Lions got to the Penn 36 in the final moments but couldn’t covert a Hail Mary heave into the end zone.
Columbia won the toss and elected to play defense first. After Penn gained a yard on its possession, Jack Soslow made a 41-yard field goal. The Lions got one yard on their first two plays before Anders Hill found Josh Wainwright over the middle at the goal line for a touchdown and the victory.
“We got the coverage we wanted,” said Wainwright, who caught 10 balls for 193 yards that included a 59-yarder to pull Columbia even with 8:35 left. “The ball just found me.”
The Quakers, who are going for their first Ivy threepeat since the mid 1980s, will host Yale (4-1, 1-1) next. No team has won an Ivy title with two losses since 1982.
“We knew this was a do-or-die game,” said linebacker Nick Miller, whose 25-yard interception return made it 21-7 early in the third period. “Every game means everything to us now.”
After Miller’s score, Penn’s next six possessions resulted in a fumble, a punt, a fumble, an interception, a punt and another pick.
“We had a chance to sort of put it out even further, make it a three-score game,” said Ray Priore, Penn’s coach, Bagnoli’s longtime assistant and still his South Jersey neighbor. “We failed. We had some miscues at key times. But we’ll be back.”
It’s not where they figured to be at the halfway point. Ditto Columbia. So which is the bigger surprise?