Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Down on the Farm

The Columbia Football season still isn't over if you consider the fact that several incoming freshmen are still playing in their high school playoffs.

One of them is DB Ben Mathiasmeier from Cinco Ranch HS in Katy, Texas. In Cinco's 34-17 win in the Texas Division II quarterfinals Saturday, Mathiasmeier had 13 tackles, two of them for a loss, and a pass break up.

Cinco Ranch are the underdogs in the state semifinal this weekend against Cibolo Steele HS. But the winner gets to go to the state championship at AT&T Stadium.

Incoming QB Josh Bean didn't advance deep into the playoffs with his Hinsdale Central HS (Illinois) team, but he had a transformative senior season that earned him All State honors.  


Monday, November 28, 2016

What Remains

A full report card on the 2016 Columbia Football season is coming soon, but the inevitable looking ahead to 2017 has already begun for many of us. And before we do that, we have to consider a few news items I'm hearing from sources:

1) The Athletic Department gets VERY touchy about reporting who is coming back for a 5th year until the news is completely official. But I can report that at least two players, one a very key starter and the other an emerging important contributor on the team, are both in the process of applying for 5th year status.

2) A player who left the program this year and could truly help the team this coming year is slated to return.

3) And of course, a large chunk of the incoming freshman class is yet to be unveiled.

But here are the top three issues to ponder during the 41 remaining weeks of the football offseason:

1) Can QB Anders Hill play like he did against Cornell and Brown for an entire season, or at least most of one?

Hill was not perfect in the last two games of the season, but he was much improved. And it's better that he wasn't perfect, because expecting him to maintain a 300+-yard/no INT type level would not be realistic in any case. But the QB who got into good sync with rising sophomore WR's Josh Wainwright and Ronald Smith, and still ran effectively was the kind of guy who could indeed lead the Lions to a 6-4 or 7-3 season in 2017. If Hill can be that guy and hone that experience during the offseason, then Columbia has probably it's biggest question answered in a good way for next year.

2) Are the backup linebackers ready to step up?

The biggest question last year, or so we thought, was whether the Lions could recover from the loss of all the graduated talent on the defensive line. For the most part, Columbia did fine in that area. Now with the graduation losses of Gianmarco Rea, Keith Brady, and Christian Conway, the linebacker corps seems like it will suffer some real growing pains next year. But there's still a lot of optimism that rising sophomores Jalen Williams, Michael Murphy, Matt Tofano, and Levi McQuinn, (who plays a sort of hybrid safety/LB position), and don't forget rising junior Cal Falkenhayn, could be even better given some time to improve. This is a talented crew and Head Coach Al Bagnoli has a long history of coaching up linebackers to an elite level in the Ivies. But this unit is definitely under scrutiny now.

3) Will the Offense keep up the momentum?

Much of this third question is basically an addendum to question #1, but the improvement in the Columbia offense starting with the second half of the Yale game was obvious. It appears the coaching staff adjusted to working with Hill's strengths, which is throwing a deeper ball and using the middle of the field. The running attack also got a lot better. The punchless Lion offense of weeks one through six, was replaced by a higher scoring machine from that point on. With that offense, Columbia probably would have won their first two games against St. Francis and Georgetown at least. This is the kind of offense the Lions need to have ready for next season.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

All Ivy

Oren Milstein

The 2016 All Ivy awards are out and the Lions have two 1st Team awardees, six players on the 2nd Team, and oddly no one on the Honorable Mention list.

Freshman PK Oren Milstein earned the rare unanimous recognition on the 1st Team, setting himself up for a chance to be the first ever four-time 1st Team All Ivy player in Columbia history.

I'm betting fellow 1st Teamer senior LB Gianmarco Rea was close to a unanimous choice, but since he didn't get there he's not likely to be named one of the two finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year award. But what a year he had!

Seeing seniors like RB Alan Watson, DB Brock Kenyon, P Cameron Nizialek, and LT Kendall Pace get some recognition on the 2nd Team was nice to see, but it's also great that two returning players, DB Cameron Roan and DL Lord Hyeamang made it too.

It disappointing that more of the stellar players like LB's Keith Brady and Christian Conway, and WR's Josh Wainwright and Ronald Smith were overlooked. But sometimes that can be worth more in motivation for next year.

Bottom line is that Columbia improved this season and showcased a lot of very young talent for the future. Not all of it was recognized, but this program is looking for more wins and not necessarily more All Ivy recognition.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Best for Last

Columbia 31 Brown 13

Why Columbia Won

The Lions clearly outplayed the Bears on offense and defense for four quarters. Columbia's running attack was potent, it's long passing attack was lethal, and the defense rarely gave much ground. This wasn't just the Lions' best game of this year, it was Columbia's best game in six years.

Why Brown Lost

The Brown offense set the tone by failing to get a TD on its first possession even though it started at the Columbia two yard line. Then, the Bears were positively inept on 3rd down all day. The defense couldn't stop the Lion passing game, especially in crucial situations. Even Brown's much-heralded place kicker missed two of his three FG attempts on the day.

Key Turning Points

-After a blocked punt on Columbia's first possession gave Brown the ball at the CU two, the Bears went backwards on two plays that lost yardage and a 15-yard personal foul penalty. Brown had to settle for a long field goal and the Lions had dodged a major bullet.

-With Columbia leading 14-6 with 6:03 left in the half, Brown got another golden opportunity when Lion QB Anders Hill made his one mistake of the game and threw an interception to a sliding Will Twyman at the CU 31. But on the very next play, Bear QB Thomas Linta threw a pick to emergency Columbia Cornerback starter Denzel Hill. 

-With the score now 21-13 in favor of the Lions and 11:50 left in the game, Brown had a chance to tie the game as it took over at their own 20. But the Columbia defense forced a three-and-out and on the Lions ensuing drive Columbia chewed up 4:20 of the clock and got an Oren Milstein FG to basically put the game out of the Bears' reach.

Columbia Positives

-The Lions were fantastic on 3rd down on both sides of the ball. They converted eight of 17 3rd downs on offense while holding Brown to just two of 15 conversions.

-The long passing game clicked so well that the Lions averaged an astounding 10.1 yards per attempt. Subtract the two incomplete passes thrown by Skyler Mornhinweg, and Hill was 11.1 yards per attempt. Josh Wainwright had five catches for 150 yards and two TD's.

-Senior RB Alan Watson closed out his career with a career day, rushing for 158 yards and scoring a 69-yard TD on Columbia's last offensive play of 2016. Watson finished the year third in the Ivies in total rushing yards.

-Playing for the injured senior Jared Katz, the senior CB Hill had a brilliant game with that key INT and helping to keep Brown to just 126 yards passing on the day.

-Milstein was perfect again, hitting a key 4th quarter FG despite having to kick it twice after a false start penalty negated his first successful attempt.

-The defense played an entire game without a major lapse. This enabled the Lions to finish an impressive third in the Ivies in total defense and first in pass defense.

-The stellar Columbia senior linebacking crew finished their great season on a high note. Gianmarco Rea led the team with 10 tackles, Chris Conway came in second with eight, and Keith Brady was third with seven. The trio combined for five tackles for a loss. Rea finished the year as the Ivy League's leading tackler with 108, a stunning 12 more than his nearest challenger.

Columbia MVP

Alan Watson had his best game of the year. Josh Wainwright had his best game of the year. It was another great game for all the Columbia linebackers.

But the most important position on the field is quarterback. And QB Anders Hill had the best game of his career. He threw the deep ball well. He threw the short ball better. He ran well. He took four sacks, but Brown's blitz-on-every-play defense was the reason. Hill's performance showed just how good this Lions team could be with good QB play. He was the Columbia MVP in this season finale.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Last Dance, Last Chance

Columbia Lions (2-7) at Brown Bears (4-5)

November 19, 2016 

Brown Stadium

Kickoff Time: 12:30PM

Gametime Weather Forecast: 58 degrees and sunny

The Spread: Brown is favored by 3.5 points

TV/Radio: The game is available live on the Ivy League Digital Network. Superior audio the game with Jerry Recco and Sal Licata is available on the Columbia Online Radio Network.

Columbia Game Notes

Brown Game Notes

Leading Storylines

1) This is Columbia's last chance to get that elusive third win for 2016 and make the strongest argument that it has indeed improved over last year's 2-8 mark. Brown is looking to surprise a lot of naysayers and claim a winning record in the Ivies.

2) Brown seems to be getting better every week with junior QB TJ Linta at the helm. Look for the Bears to use this game as a launching point to contending for a title in 2017.

3) Columbia's offense has suddenly come to life over the last few weeks, greatly due to the emergence of freshman WR Ronald Smith as a 100-yard per game threat. A rare warm season-ending game in Providence could be his chance to make a case for Ivy Rookie of the Year.