Any time a football team holds its opponent to a single-digit point total, that team’s defense is key to its success.
This adage aptly describes the Lions’ 10-9 victory on Saturday afternoon, as the Light Blue’s defense helped carry the team to a 1-0 overall record for the first time since 2009.
Head coach Pete Mangurian, who begins his Columbia coaching career with a 1.000 winning percentage after Saturday’s victory, believes the defense was vital to the team’s success.
“Defense kept us in the game in the first half, while the offense had a chance to figure it out a little bit,” Mangurian said.
The Lions’ front seven was ferocious all day. They were able to hold a Marist team that had run for 269 yards in its victory over Bryant to just 21 net yards on the ground in 38 attempts—an average of just 0.6 yards per carry.
The defensive line and backers also had five sacks and seven tackles for loss, which cost the Marist offense 75 yards. Mangurian was especially pleased with the young men in the defensive trenches.
“Everybody surprised at how well we played up front, I’ve been telling you all along the front seven of this team is good,” Mangurian said. “They can be better. I’m not going to sit here and play games and say they’re not talented, because they are.”
Mangurian was also quick to credit defensive coordinator and secondary coach Kevin Lempa for his effort in preparing the Lions for success.
“Kevin did a tremendous job with the defense,” Mangurian said. “He knew what he had to do early and he did it.
“I was pleased with the way Kevin called the game defensively, as far as when he was aggressive and when he wasn’t.”
“Coach Lempa had a good game plan, first of all,” junior linebacker Zach Olinger said. “And then the defensive line has been working really hard, I think—as the rest of the squad has been too. We just played as a team and executed the plan.”
But what really led to the Lions win was the defense’s ability to force turnovers. The Light Blue created three of them, all coming in critical moments.
Senior linebacker Mike Waller intercepted a pass deep in Columbia’s own territory in the second quarter to end a Marist scoring threat. Then, in the third quarter, Olinger forced Marist running back Calvin McCoy to fumble at the Columbia goal line to yet again stop the Red Foxes from scoring.
“In practice we prepared for goal line,” Olinger said. “We as a team stuck him and he dropped the ball. That was just a good team rally, and that shows what you can do when you don’t give up.”
Finally, in the fourth quarter, Olinger intercepted a tipped pass that allowed the Lions to seal the victory by pounding the run until the clock ran out.
“Well Mike Waller just dropped back, tipped it up,” Olinger said of his interception. “And we run to the ball, so I just ran to the ball and it popped right into my hands. Just ran it back. I was really happy.”
“Me too,” Mangurian quipped.
The Lions defense may have been aggressive, but Mangurian also pointed out that the team’s focus is what really made it effective.
“You have to stay in the moment,” Mangurian said. “You’ve got to work from series to series, quarter to quarter. And that’s what these guys did.”