Two years ago, in the postgame press conference of the Harvard-Columbia football tilt, the Lions players shuffled dejectedly into the press room of the Baker Athletic Complex. When asked about the 34-0 loss to the Crimson, they mumbled halfhearted answers about moral victories and finishing the season.
A year later, rinse and repeat, this time at the Murr Center in Cambridge, Mass., this time following a 45-0 loss to Harvard, and this time—if possible—giving even terser answers after 19 games without a win.
On Saturday, the winner and loser didn’t change. But those were about the only things that remained the same in the 2015 rendition of the Harvard versus Columbia matchup to the past three years, routs that had a combined score of 148 Crimson, 0 Lions.
When quarterback Anders Hill, defensive back Matt Cahal, and wide receiver Scooter Hollis walked into the Baker Athletic Complex press room Saturday, their heads were held high. They talked about no longer accepting moral victories, of a confidence in their team to go into any situation and win, no matter the opponent.
I’m sorry, do these guys even play for Columbia? If I hadn’t been following the team’s progress through the year and watching the past 60 minutes of football on the gridiron, I might not have believed that Hill, Cahal, and Hollis were a part of the same Lions team that had become the butt of many jokes about Ancien Eight football, or at the very least were just spouting nonsense.
But anyone who has watched this year’s Columbia unit (2-6, 1-4 Ivy) can attest to Hill’s statement that this squad, despite its losing record and poor play in recent team history, could probably take on any conference team and come away with a win.
Indeed, this 24-16 nail-biter was the most competitive game Harvard (7-0, 5-0) has been in all year with the exception of last week’s last second victory over then-undefeated Dartmouth.
Even with the Lions’ relative success this year—a win over Yale the week before, and a near-victory over the Big Green, two preseason projected powerhouses of the Ancient Eight—I was unconvinced that this was going to be anything different from the absolute massacres I witnessed in the past few years.
In fact, it looked like Saturday’s contest was going to follow the trend of the blowouts of years past when the Crimson pulled ahead, 24-3, on an 86-yard punt return touchdown from rookie Justice Shelton-Mosley early in the fourth quarter.
And then, the comeback commenced. Columbia’s defense held fast for two straight three-and-out stops, while the offense put together two scoring drives in the final quarter, closing the gap to eight.
Save a 12-man substitution penalty, and the Lions would have had the ball back with a minute left on the clock and the chance to march down the field to tie the game. With the top defense in the league stymied by Columbia’s no-huddle offense on the previous drive, who knows what would have happened had the punt play stood, penalty-free?
But the penalty did happen, the forced punt turned into a first down, and Crimson quarterback Scott Hosch took two knees to run down the clock. Another victory against Columbia, and the Harvard win streak lived on to see another week, but this one almost felt like a victory for the desperate Lions, too.
Gone was the anemic defense that had allowed past Crimson squads to score at will.
Columbia’s defensive front seven controlled the line throughout the whole game, forcing this Harvard offense—arguably one of the most potent in school history, averaging nearly 40 points per game coming into Saturday’s matchup—to all but abandon its run game and forcing quarterback Scott Hosch to pass outside.