NEW YORK - The last time Columbia defeated Yale in football, the current seniors on the Columbia football team were 10 years old. But Patricia and Shepard Alexander Head Coach of Football Pete Mangurian has said since his initial press conference last December, this Columbia football team would leave the past behind. While rebuilding is a process, the team showed fight, toughness and grit, shedding the past and defeating Yale for the first time since 2001, 26-22, on Saturday at Robert K. Kraft Field.
Columbia quarterback Sean Brackett rushed for one touchdown and threw for another in the fourth quarter to lead the Lions, totaling 328 yards through the air as the Columbia offense recorded 429 total yards.
Trailing 22-19 with just over seven minutes left to play, Columbia started a drive on the Yale 44-yard line after a 49-yard return by first-year Travis Reim. Brackett found Connor Nelligan on first down for a gain of 15 yards, taking Columbia to the Yale 29. On third and 11, Brackett found Hamilton Garner for a gain of six, bringing out Luke Eddy for a 41-yard field goal attempt. Eddy's kick was just wide left, and Yale started their drive on their own 24.
Yale ran the ball with tailback Tyler Varga taking direct snaps from center. Varga, who had a monster game with 220 yards rushing, took the Lions down to the Columbia 45, but was stripped by Mike Waller, and recovered by Ryan Murphy to give the Lions the ball with 2:05 remaining.
Columbia made a quick charge down the field with Brackett connecting with Connors for a gain of nine. A Columbia hold negated a good part of that gain, but Brackett found Nelligan on the ensuing play for 25 yards to the Yale 30. Brackett went right back to Nelligan on the next play for a 17-yard gain to the Yale 13.
One play later, Brackett connected with Nelligan again for a 10-yard gain down to the Yale three-yard line. Columbia had first and goal from inside the three-yard line once before in the game, without converting, but this time, Brackett found Marcorus Garrett on the left side of the end zone for a touchdown. With the extra point, Columbia took a 26-22 lead with 45 seconds left.
Yale got one complete pass on the final drive for a first down to their own 42, but Greg Lee's sack on first and 10 ended the game.
Columbia finished with 369 yards passing to Yale's 52, while Yale had 262 yards rushing to Columbia's 60. Brackett was 33-47-1 for 328 with two touchdowns. Garrett had 71 yards rushing and 14 yards receiving. Nelligan had a career-high 138 yards receiving, while Connors had eight catches for 96 yards.
Not to forget about defense, Murphy had six tackles, one for a loss, one fumble recovery and the tackle that resulted in the safety. Mike DiTommaso had seven tackles in the win.
Columbia opened the scoring with a 28-yard field goal from Luke Eddy to take a 3-0 lead with 8:29 left in the first quarter. The Lions defense forced the Bulldogs to a three-and-out on Yale's first possession and carried the three-point lead into the second quarter.
Yale got on the board early in the second quarter with a 28-yard touchdown scamper by Varga.
Yale's next possession began with 8:34 remaining in the half, but the Columbia defense would quickly get the ball back. Ryan Murphy tackled Mordecai Cargill for a four-yard loss on first down and then took down Varga in the end zone on second down for a Columbia safety.
Neither team was able to add to the score the remainder of the half, and Yale led 7-5 at the break.
Yale doubled its tally with Varga's second touchdown of the contest on a 12-play, 74-yard drive the give the Bulldogs a 14-5 advantage with 8:33 left in the third quarter.
Columbia responded swiftly though, as Brackett led a drive, 75 yards on 14 plays, ending with a four-yard touchdown pass from Brackett to Jake Wanamaker. It was Wanamaker's first touchdown of his Columbia career.
Columbia took a 19-14 lead early in the fourth quarter when they started a drive on their own 49 on a 30-yard return from Alec Fisher. Brackett hit Nelligan, Ryan Flannery and Wanamaker for gains, but the big play of the series was on third and four from the Yale 29 when Brackett hit Connors for a 27-yard gain. The Lions had two attempts on first and goal from the two without a touchdown, but on third and goal, Brackett faked to Garrett and snuck in for the touchdown.
Columbia (2-5, 1-3 Ivy League) returns to action next Saturday when they travel to Harvard for a 1 p.m. game.