Two games into Ivy play, two heartbreaking losses on the last play.
Penn football fell to Columbia, 34-31 in overtime. The Lions (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) crawled back from a 21-7 deficit by scoring 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter before walking off in overtime on a 24-yard touchdown to wide receiver Josh Wainwright. Penn (2-3, 0-2 Ivy) has now lost its last three games and its Ivy League title hopes took a substantial hit with the loss in New York.
With the win, Columbia snapped its 20-game losing streak to the Quakers extending back to 1996, when Columbia coach Al Bagnoli was just starting his fourth year coaching Penn. Bagnoli beat his former team of 23 years in his third year coaching the Lions.
The Quakers seemed to be in control of the game when they recovered an onside kick in the third quarter, up 21-7.
However, four second-half turnovers left the door open for Columbia.
After allowing 21 unanswered points, the Penn fell behind for the first time in the game, 28-21. The Red and Blue offense then broke out of its funk when it got the ball with 4:11 remaining in the game at its own 20-yard line.
They ripped off an eight play, 80-yard touchdown drive from the visitors featuring three catches for 62 yards by senior wide receiver Justin Watson, who capped it off with a 17-yard haul from Fischer-Colbrie.
Columbia started its final drive of regulation with 1:21 left in the game at its own 20, and advanced to the Penn 36 with eight seconds remaining, when Priore called the Quakers’ third timeout of the half when it appeared Wainwright was uncovered prior to the snap. Hill’s Hail Mary attempt on the ensuing play fell incomplete, sending the game into overtime.
Penn got the ball first in overtime, and junior kicker Jack Soslow hit a 41-yard field goal. Facing a third-and-nine from the Penn 24, Wainwright got open and caught the 24-yard pass to end the game and give Columbia its first win over Penn in 21 years.
Senior wide receiver Justin Watson expressed frustration with the loss.
“There were too many mental mistakes, things we teach first week that we can’t do if we want to win games,” Watson said.
Priore and Bagnoli were both asked about what it was like to play against each other for the third time. Bagnoli downplayed the Penn narrative and friendly rivalry with Priore.
“It has nothing to do with having used to work there. I understand the storyline, but it’s really about beating an accomplished program,” Bagnoli said. “You don’t become a two-time defending champion by being not good.”
After rushing touchdowns from senior quarterback Will Fischer-Colbrie and sophomore running back Karekin Brooks in the first 16 minutes of play, Penn’s offense fell silent. 126 of its 308 yards of total offense came in the first quarter, and Penn did not score over a 43-minute stretch from the beginning of the second quarter through the end of the fourth.
Fischer-Colbrie finished with 186 yards on 14-of-25 passing with a touchdown and two interceptions, and Penn running game was largely held in check. Brooks and senior running back Tre Solomon combined for 88 yards on 24 attempts.
Most of Columbia’s key plays came from two players in the wide receiver Wainwright and wildcat quarterback Josh Bean. Wainwright had six catches for 133 yards and a touchdown after halftime, finishing with 10 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown on the day.
Priore acknowledged after the game that he thought the Quakers’ plan to cover Wainwright was not optimal, but credited unfortunate field position as a reason for the defense’s late game struggles.
“It felt like our backs were up against it the whole time and put a lot of strain and stress on people,” Priore said.
The game featured flashbacks to the Dartmouth loss from two weeks ago, where Dartmouth wildcat Jared Gerbino ran 11 times for 71 yards including the game-winning touchdown as time expired, with the two goal-line touchdowns from Bean.
Priore did not consider Bean or rushing quarterbacks a serious issue for the defense.
“They might have had seven tries from the 3-yard line and got in on the last time in each of them, so we were valiant there,” Priore said. “It happened well before the 3-yard line. We have to stop them before we get there.”
Penn hosts Yale next Saturday at Franklin Field.