Last-Second Field Goal Pushes Columbia Past Wagner
Lions win their season opener for the first time in five years.
Going into the 2017 season, Columbia hoped that many of the close losses the Lions suffered in 2016 would become close wins. The Lions began the season hopeful that this would be the year that they mature into an Ivy League contender.
Columbia struggled in the second half of their opening game, but Oren Milstein kicked a 29-yard field goal as time expired that gave the Lions a 17-14 win over Wagner at Wien Stadium.
“We’ll certainly will take a win in any form or fashion,” Columbia head coach 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 box score-related but are a key indicator of whether you’re going to be a good team.”
Columbia Starts Hot In First Half
The first half featured a stout Columbia defense that allowed just 118 yards of total offense to Wagner. The first quarter was scoreless for both teams as the Seahawks could not stay on the field. On the other hand, Columbia could not capitalize on two deep passes by Anders Hill. Wagner was able to halt a Lions’ drive with a clutch third-down stop.
The Columbia offense awakened in the second quarter as freshman quarterback Josh Bean put the Lions on the board with a 1-yard run on a Jet Sweep keeper. A 32-yard reception by Ronald Smith proceeded the scoring play that put Columbia on the doorstep of the end zone.
While Wagner’s offense continued to struggle, Columbia continued to move down the field as the quarter progressed. Sophomore receiver Josh Wainwright made a circus catch in the middle of the field for 30 yards that moved the Lions near midfield. Wainwright capped off the four-play drive with a 55-yard touchdown catch to put Columbia up 14-0. Wagner put together a drive at the end of the half. and moved into field goal range. However, James Cooper’s 44-yard field was blocked by Carson Powell to end the half.
Wagner Begins Comeback Behind Fulse
The momentum that Columbia had in the first half disappeared as Wagner began to ramp up their offensive play. After Columbia punted, the Seahawks took advantage as Ryan Fulse scored on an 83-yard run to cut the Lions’ lead to 14-7. While Columbia consistently hit Wagner quarterback Luke Massei throughout, Hill made two mistakes in the second half, throwing two interceptions. The second interception led to another Fulse TD run to tie the game at 14.
A Frantic Fourth Quarter
As the contest progressed down the stretch, both teams struggled to take control. Columbia kicker Oren Milstein missed a 29-yard in the early stages of the fourth quarter. Fulse broke a 60-yard TD run, but it was called back due to a holding call.
Wagner drove the ball down the field with a 12 play drive and set up for the go-ahead field goal. The Lions blocked their second kick of the day and the offense took control with 1:38 remaining.
Staring at their 35-yard line, Hill led Columbia on a nine play, 55-yard drive to set up Milstein for the game-winning field goal. The win is Columbia’s first opening day win in five years.
“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. I just did my thing that I’ve been doing for a long time and I just trust myself.”
Hill finished with 288 yards of total offense (199 passing, 89 rushing). Wainwright caught four passes and finished with 104 yards and a touchdown, while Tanner Thomas set a career-high with 48 yards rushing. Landon Baty led the Columbia defense as he finished with 12 total tackles.
“At the end of the day, we ended up with a win. We can go back and correct everything,” said Bagnoli. “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.”
What’s Next For Columbia
The Lions will look to move to 2-0 when they host the Georgetown Hoyas at Wien Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 23 at 1 p.m.