In a game that could only be described as a laugher, with a final score of 38-3, it was the Columbia Lions’ timely offensive play calling and creativity standing out above all else.
Columbia offensive coordinator Mark Fabish, known for his hybrid spread offensive system, unfurled numerous flashy play calls, as his team put up 405 total yards and created eye candy for the sizable contingent of Columbia fans in attendance at Tenney Stadium on Saturday night.
On the opening drive of the game, the Lions shrewdly sought to exploit Marist’s biggest weakness from a week ago, their run defense (which surrendered 224 yards on the ground to Georgetown), using multiple successful runs to set up play-action passes. Their plan got off to a fantastic start, with junior running back Joey Giorgi ripping off runs of 12 and 8 yards and totaling 23 yards rushing on the opening drive.
These runs allowed the Lions to keep the Marist defense on their toes with run-fakes, as 2021 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Quarterback Joe Green connected with junior receiver Wills Meyer on a 13-yard slant route, then again with sophomore receiver Bryson Canty on a 44-yard play-action go route. Both plays were well-designed and crisp in execution, with each receiver running properly-timed routes to gain an extra step on the defender.
On Columbia’s second offensive possession, Fabish introduced a new wrinkle – the no-huddle offense. The offense worked quickly, as Green got the ball to his receivers out in space on back-to-back plays, with successful outside screen passes to junior receiver Marcus Libman and senior receiver Ernest Robertson. Both receivers were hit in stride, thus allowing them to continue their momentum and slip past the edge of the Marist defense and up the sideline.
“[The no-huddle offense] kind of makes it hard to make the substitutions that we want, especially once we get shorter yardage [situations] and we want to get our more run-type of defense out there,” said standout senior Marist safety Clayborne Fields III, who finished the night with a team-leading 11 combined tackles.
Knowing that this was the case, Columbia dialed up multiple effective runs with change-of-pace junior running back Ty’son Edwards, until a potentially game-changing moment occurred when Fields III picked off Green by undercutting a route to the outer edge of the end zone. Unfortunately for Marist, the play was negated by a roughing the passer call on redshirt junior safety Kyle Coffindaffer. Columbia subsequently took advantage by hitting paydirt on a one-yard Edwards rushing touchdown just moments later.
Marist was unable to respond to Columbia’s offensive efficiency and pace, as sophomore quarterback Brock Bagozzi gave the football right back just a few plays later on a tipped ball that was intercepted by junior linebacker CJ Brown. Columbia’s offense took to the field in prime position after the turnover, starting at the Marist 40 and immediately going back into their bag of tricks.
This time, it was a successful double reverse play out of the backfield, as the ball was pitched twice from the quarterback to the decoy motion man and then to Canty, who pranced around the edge and up the sideline for a 21-yard gain. This play was yet another example of how Fabish’s offensive creativity and play-calling gave them the upper hand against the Marist defense, a unit that could not contain Columbia’s speed on the boundary.
“They played pretty much the same stuff that we prepared for,” said Marist head coach Jim Parady. “There were a few wrinkles obviously, but the majority of the stuff that they played and the way they distributed routes and things like that were what we expected, so then it comes down to execution.”
Perhaps the most beautiful pass of the day for Green came later on the drive when he found Libman in the back left corner of the end zone for an eight-yard score on a high arcing throw, placed where only the receiver could get it. The signal caller seemed perfectly at home in the road environment, consistently evading pressure and making the big throws needed to pick up first downs.
Marist finally made some noise with about 10 minutes left in the second quarter when Bagozzi connected with sophomore receiver Matt Stianche down the right sideline for a 37-yard gain on a simple go route, but then Parady proceeded to call a head-scratching timeout after an apparent miscommunication. This sequence of events highlighted the difference between Columbia’s offense, which played much of the game at a blistering pace, and Marist’s, which struggled to get on the same page after a huge completion.
Marist then tried to take a page out of Columbia’s book by sprinkling in some creativity of their own on the ensuing play, using speedster running back Glenmour Osbourne-Leonard in motion and getting him the ball on a shovel pass, but the play was immediately blown up in the backfield due to poor blocking. A few plays later, Marist again ran a play that was similar in style to Columbia’s offense when Bagozzi hit junior receiver, Will Downs, in stride over the middle on a read-option pass, but the ball bounced off of his hands resulting in an untimely drop.
“We left plays on the field today that, early on, could’ve kept us in… it could’ve been a different approach as we went [along], so we have to be able to make those plays if we’re gonna be successful,” said Parady
The theme of the day for the Red Foxes was a lack of execution. The offensive ineptitude only continued for Marist to open the third quarter, as Bagozzi lobbed up an underthrown deep ball, which was intercepted by senior cornerback Bryan Bell-Anderson, and merely watched as the Lions returned the pick for yet another deflating score.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Jonathan Kinane