“I suck as a head coach. You can write that. That’s what’s going on.”
Columbia’s 24-21 loss on Saturday night to Lafayette prompted head coach Norries Wilson to make that declaration in the post-game press conference.
The Lions (2-2, 1-0 Ivy) started the game out strong, putting Lafayette on their heels with scores in their first three possessions.
“We always expect our defense to shut people down,” Lafayette head coach Frank Tavani said. “Well, that just doesn’t always happen every week. People expect [that] and then go, ‘Oh, what’s wrong with the defense?’ Well I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the defense: this offense. They’re real good.”
The first touchdown came on a Houdini-like moment for senior quarterback Millicent Olawale, as he managed to stay upright while being swarmed by several Leopard defenders and got the ball out to tailback Ray Rangel, who dashed 18 yards and put Columbia in Lafayette’s territory.
Olawale ran into the end zone almost untouched two plays later on a from 27 yards out to put the Lions up 7-0. Olawale would finish the day 11-for-17 for 153 yards and a touchdown with 72 yards rushing.
Lafayette senior tailback Maurice White answered for the Leopards on a two-yard run after a pass interference call on senior cornerback Calvin Otis put the Leopards at first and goal. An eerily similar play came later with the game on the line.
It only took 68 seconds for the Light Blue to fight back. Senior Austin Knowlin returned the kickoff 57 yards—his longest of the season—to put the Lions at first and ten at the Lafayette 20-yard line. A 21-yard pass to Knowlin put the Lions ahead again, 14-7.
Knowlin picked up another reception in the team’s next drive, and with it the senior broke the school record for career receptions.
“That’s a great thing to achieve, but right now with the career we’ve had at Columbia we’re more about just wanting to win,” Knowlin said. “I’ll look back on this and love the fact that I accomplished that but right now I just want to win.”
Columbia went into the half with a 21-10 lead, and for the second time this season the Lions were shut out in the second half.
“The defense, I thought, were playing their butts off,” Wilson said. “We got some turnovers on defense, which we thought we had to have ... but their defense outplayed our offense.”
The Leopards put up 229 yards in the second half with 42 offensive plays. The Lions offense only had two first downs in the entire second half, despite the effort from the defense to get them the ball. After Lafayette scored on their opening possession on a one-yard fade pass from quarterback Rob Curley to Mitchell Bennett to make it 21-17, the defense again came up big with turnovers.
An interception by senior safety Andy Shalbrack in the end zone ended a 63-yard drive for the Leopards. Olawale fumbled the ball back on the ensuing Columbia drive, but a missed field goal by Lafayette gave the Lions another chance to extend their lead.
Another interception, this time by Ross Morand, stalled yet another Leopard drive. But again, the Lions failed to convert, this time giving Lafayette the ball with just over six minutes left in the game.
“We felt we had a distinct advantage over a lot of their receivers, thought we could outplay them,” Shalbrack said. “We did that for a lot of the game, but one simple botched coverage or something like that can be the difference in the game and that’s what happened.”
Facing second-and-15 from the Columbia 16-yard line, Curley threw up the ball for Bennett at the three-yard line. Morand was flagged for pass interference, giving the Leopards first-and-goal from the Columbia three-yard line.
White got the ball but only picked up a yard against the Lions defense. On second-and-goal, White just managed to get back to the line of scrimmage. But on third down, he punched it into the end zone, giving Lafayette the lead with only 13 seconds left to go in the game.
“While we were down there, I just knew that we were going to get it in,” White said. “We just drove so far down the field, I’m like: ‘We can’t be stopped.’”