NEW YORK, N.Y.—For a team without a win this season, Columbia has still kept up with the best in the Ivy League.
Against reigning Ancient Eight champion Penn, the Lions lost on a last-minute touchdown. Facing Yale last week, Columbia mounted a 13-point fourth-quarter rally but once again fell just short.
And on Saturday against Harvard, the Lions gave Harvard its first scare in weeks—during the first half, at least.
The Lions opened the game with a methodical, 12-play drive that gave Columbia its first lead since Oct. 15 against the Quakers.
No play in the series went for more than 14 yards, but the Crimson defensive line struggled early against Columbia’s run game.
Harvard tied things up in the first quarter and threatened early in the second. A 43-yard completion to senior wide receiver Chris Lorditch put the Crimson deep in Columbia territory.
With about 9:30 on the clock, senior quarterback Collier Winters threw a red-zone pick along the right sideline, and Ross Morand took it back 87 yards for a touchdown.
It was a play highly reminiscent of a pick-six in Harvard’s season opener against Holy Cross, the team’s only loss of the year.
The Crimson went into halftime tied after another touchdown late in the frame, and the team took a lead in the third and never trailed again in the game.
“Offensively, there were not real adjustments [at the half],” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “We just said, ‘Hey, what’s our mantra? What’s our thing?’ Our whole thing is just take care of the football.”
The Lions could very easily have had the lead at halftime.
On the second-to-last play of the first quarter, freshman running back Zach Boden fumbled near midfield, and Columbia recovered but failed to score on the drive.
In the final minutes of the second quarter, the Lions failed to get into field goal range, and it could not convert on fourth-and-four.
O-LINE, WHERE ART THOU?
One of the strengths—and biggest surprises—for Harvard this season has been its offensive line. But after one of its best performances of the year last week against Dartmouth, it had one of its worst in Manhattan.
Winters threw for 323 yards and 3 touchdowns, but he was still under pressure the entire afternoon.
The Harvard passer was sacked five times for 31 yards—more sacks than the Crimson had allowed in its past three games combined.
A sloppy day from the offensive line didn’t end there. One week after a 395-yard rushing game against the Big Green, Harvard managed only 163 against the Lions.
Much like the rest of the team, the line had an inauspicious start to Saturday’s game. Harvard attempted just one run play all quarter—a six-yarder from Boden—and relied almost exclusively on the arm of Winters.
The group also made a number of mental errors—an unusual set of mistakes for one of the better lines in the Ivies.
“They played uncharacteristically, I think, in the first half,” Columbia coach Norries Wilson said. “[Freshman offensive tackle Will Whitman] is going to be a great player at offensive line.”
In one two-play stretch in the first quarter, the offensive line committed three false starts, putting the Crimson in a third-and-25 situation. Later in the same drive, the team was hit with another false start in the red zone. Harvard took two more false starts in the second quarter before settling down.
“We felt like their front four—they rotated eight guys—was very athletic, and they were very good,” Murphy said. “At times, they put a lot of pressure on us today, and at times it got ugly. The pocket got compressed, [and] we had a couple of turnovers under pressure.”
CATCH AND RELEASE
With the way the Crimson struggled in the first half, the game could have gone very differently if not for solid performances from Harvard’s receivers. Winters used seven receivers in the game, but there were two clear standout performances.
Junior tight end Kyle Juszczyk had one of his best games of the year, picking up 118 yards and scoring twice. Senior wide receiver Chris Lorditch also passed the 100-yard mark and scored a touchdown of his own.
Both Juszczyk and Lorditch had 41-yard receptions in the second half on a pair of plays that opened up the game for good.
In the third quarter, Lorditch hauled one in along the sideline before cutting inside to get to the end zone and give Harvard a 28-14 lead.
Eight minutes later, Winters found Juszczyk wide open downfield. The junior tight end out-ran the defense and dove in just before Columbia could catch him.
“The reason I kind of dove to the end zone is that I wasn’t really sure if anyone was close to me,” Juszczyk said. “I’m sad to say, I’m not really used to being behind the defense. There’s normally some guys in front of me. But I’m getting used to it now.”
—Staff writer E. Benjamin Samuels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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