NEW YORK—Sophomore placekicker Oren Milstein converted a 29-yard field goal to give Columbia Football a last second victory over Wagner in its season opener Saturday at Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium. The win gave Columbia its first season opening victory in five years and was its third consecutive win over Wagner in as many years.
Milstein’s game-winning kick came after senior quarterback Anders Hill marched Columbia down the field for a 54-yard scoring drive and after the Lions blocked their second Wagner field goal attempt of the game.
With the score tied at 14-14, Wagner drove 56 yards in 12 plays down to the Columbia 24-yard line, where the Lions’ defense forced a fourth-and-six play with 1:38 to play. Wagner’s James Cooper attempted a 42-yard field goal, which was blocked by Columbia’s Connor Heeb and recovered by the Lions.
Columbia gained possession and Hill engineered the scoring drive by connecting with wide receiver Ronald Smith for a 16-yard gain and scrambling for a 20-yard gain. A pass interference penalty put Columbia inside Wagner’s 20-yard line and set up a third-and-six with five seconds to play. Milstein came in and calmly nailed the field goal as time expired.
“We’ll certainly will take a win in any form or fashion,” Patricia and Shepard Alexander Head Coach of Football Al Bagnoli said. “It’s one of those games you want to take out a lot of positives. It’s the first game, the weather was hot, we had to get into game shape and we came back from adversity. We did a lot of things that are nitty gritty that are not really boxscore-related, but are a key indicator of whether you’re going to be a good team. Those are the positives. Then you still have a lot of negatives; some penalties that we shouldn’t had had, some procedural things that we did, some opportunities that were squandered, and it ended up being a tighter game than it should have been. At the end of the day, we ended up with a win. We can go back and correct everything. I think our players know they have a higher ceiling and that they’re capable of playing at that level and with much greater consistency. At the same time, everyone’s got to applaud how they won the game on the last play, which kept everyone in the stands.”
Columbia took a 14-0 halftime lead. It was the first time the Lions held an opponent scoreless in the first half since it led Princeton 9-0 on October 3, 2009 en route to a 38-0 victory. After a scoreless first quarter, Columbia got on the board first with 13:36 left in the second quarter when Hill engineered a six-play, 62-yard drive which ended with a one-yard touchdown run by first-year Josh Bean. The drive was highlighted by a 32-yard pass from Hill to Ronald Smith II which gave the Lions a first-and-goal at Wagner’s one-yard line.
Columbia went up 14-0 when Hill found a wide open Josh Wainwright, who shed a tackle and rambled into the end zone for a 55-yard scoring strike. The play concluded a 90-yard, four-play scoring drive which also featured a Wainwright 30-yard reception from Hill.
Wagner (1-2, 0-1 NEC) cut the deficit to 14-7 in the third quarter when Ryan Fulse found an opening in the Columbia defense, shed a tackle and rushed for an 83-yard touchdown. Fulse tied the game at 14-14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter when he ran 21 yards for touchdown after the Seahawks’ Santoni Graham intercepted a deflected pass.
Milstein connected on his field goal after missing his first attempt from 29 yards. Last year in his first-year at Columbia, Milstein earned First Team All-Ivy League honors and consideration for the Fred Mitchell Award (FCS National Placekicker of the Year Award) after he converted 12 of 13 field goals, all 16 of his point after attempts and led the Lions in scoring 52 points. He also set a school-record with five field goals, including the game-winning field goal against Wagner in a 15-13 Columbia victory on Oct. 8, 2016. It is the third time he’s kicked a game-winning field goal in his career.
“The first kick I just came in too far at the ball and hooked it a little bit,” Milstein said. “I knew I could bounce back later on. The coaches, players, everyone instilled confidence in me from the start and reinforced that after the first kick. Patrick Eby, Ryan Suitt did a great job with the snap and hold all game, they’re phenomenal. I just did my thing that I’ve been doing for a long time and I just trust myself.”
Hill led Columbia with 288 total offensive yards as he rushed for a career-high 89 yards on 19 carries and passed for 199 yards and a touchdown while completing 12 of 21 passes. Sophomore wide receiver Josh Wainwright caught four passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, sophomore Ronald Smith caught four passes for 74 yards and sophomore Tanner Thomas set career-highs for rushing yards (48) and carries (16).
Fulse led Wagner with 153 rushing yards, two touchdowns on 19 carries and quarterback Luke Massei threw for 120 yards while completing 13 of 19 passes.
POST GAME NOTES
*Today’s weather at kickoff was 81 degrees and sunny.
*With the win, Columbia snapped a four-game losing streak on opening day. The last time Columbia won a season opener and home season opener was against Marist on Sept. 15, 2012, a 10-9 victory.
*For the second consecutive year, Oren Milstein kicked the game-winning field in a win against Wagner. Last year, he kicked the game winner and converted a school-record 5-5 field goals in a 15-13 win at Wagner.
*Columbia improved to 3-0 all-time vs. Wagner. All three wins have come in the last three years: 2015, 2016 and 2017.
*On his first career run, first-year Josh Bean scored on a one-yard touchdown run through the middle of the Wagner defense. It was his first career play.
*Fourth consecutive game sophomore Josh Wainwright has caught a touchdown pass He caught a 55-yard scoring pass from Anders Hill in the second quarter. It was the second longest reception of his career ranking behind his 88-yard TD reception last year vs. Princeton. It also marked his second career and second consecutive 100-yard receiving day as he concluded last year with a 150-yard, five catch and two TD day at Brown.
*Hill finished with a career-high 89 rushing yards on 19 carries (4.7 average). He also passed for 199 yards and a touchdown as he totaled 288 offensive yards on the day.
*Columbia blocked two field goals on the afternoon. Senior defensive lineman Connor Heeb blocked a key field goal with 1:38 to play and first-year linebacker Carson Powell blocked a field goal attempt in the second quarter.
*With his 16 carries and 48 yards rushing, sophomore Tanner Thomas finished with career-highs in both statistics. He also caught a career-high two passes for 13 yards. Last year he had one reception.
*First-year Carson Powell blocked a field goal attempt eight seconds before the half. It was his first blocked kick of his career. The ball was picked up by Ryan Gilbert. The last time Columbia blocked a kick was at Harvard on Nov. 5, 2016 when Hunter Lunsford returned a block for a touchdown.
*The last time Columbia held an opponent scoreless in the first half was at Princeton on October 3, 2009. Columbia won the game 38-0.
*Junior Kyle Castner made his first career catch in the fourth quarter, a 10-yard reception from Hill. He made his first career start at receiver today after switching positions from quarterback prior to 2017 spring drills.
*Sophomore wide receiver Kaleb Pitts made his first reception of his career.
*Making their first career starts today were: sophomore right guard Parker Coogan, junior wide receiver Kyle Castner, sophomore linebacker Michael Murphy, junior linebacker Sean White, sophomore linebacker Jalen Williams and junior free safety Ryan Gilbert.
*Junior safety Landon Baty led Columbia with a career-high 12 tackles (one solo, 11 assists). His previous career-high was 10 vs. Princeton on Oct. 1, 2016.
*Sophomore middle linebacker Jalen Williams finished with a career-high eight tackles. He also finished with a career-high three quarterback hurries in his first career start.
*Junior linebacker Sean White totaled career-highs of seven tackles (five solo) and 2.0 tackles for loss in his first career start.
*Making their collegiate debuts were Josh Bean, Ryan Suitt, Cooper Wilson, Parker Thome, Emerson Kabus, Justin Hill, Will Allen, Ben Mathiasmeier, Ian VanDenBerg, Blake Wooden, Parker Tobia, Carson Powell, Justin Woodley, Cameren Carter and Kaleb Pitts.