NEW YORK – If you're going to end a 20-game series losing streak, this is probably the way you would want to script it. Columbia hadn't beaten Penn since 1996. That was also the last time the Lions started a season with four wins.
Now, they're 5-0, having beaten both of the co-defending Ivy League champions.
Two weeks ago, Columbia got past Princeton on a 63-yard touchdown pass with just more than a minute to go. Saturday afternoon at Wien Stadium, the Lions finally put away the Quakers on a 24-yard scoring pass and won in overtime, 34-31.
"Obviously it's a signature win for our program," said third-year coach Al Bagnoli, who won nine Ivy titles in 23 seasons as Penn coach and was responsible for inflicting most of that two-decade drought by the Lions. "I know the story line because I used to work there. We can't worry about what's happened [in the past]. This is today. Everything is different."
The Quakers (2-3, 0-2) have lost three straight since putting up 65 points at Lehigh. Two weeks ago, they dropped their Ivy opener at home to Dartmouth on a 1-yard touchdown run on the last play. This time, they led by 14. Twice. But the Lions (5-0, 2-0) scored three touchdowns in a span of 6 1/2 minutes in the fourth quarter to go in front for the first time.
Then, Penn – which had four turnovers, two of which set Columbia up at its 39- and 19-yard lines – moved 80 yards on seven plays to tie things with 1 minute, 21 seconds showing on a 17-yard pass from Will Fischer-Colbrie to Justin Watson.
The Lions got to the Penn 36 in the final moments but couldn't covert a Hail Mary heave into the end zone.
Columbia won the toss and elected to play defense first. After Penn gained a yard on its possession, Jack Soslow made a 41-yard field goal. The Lions got one yard on their first two plays before Anders Hill found Josh Wainwright over the middle at the goal line for a touchdown and the victory.
"We got the coverage we wanted," said Wainwright, who caught 10 balls for 193 yards that included a 59-yarder to pull Columbia even with 8:35 left. "The ball just found me."
The Quakers, who are going for their first Ivy threepeat since the mid 1980s, will host Yale (4-1, 1-1) next. No team has won an Ivy title with two losses since 1982.
"We knew this was a do-or-die game," said linebacker Nick Miller, whose 25-yard interception return made it 21-7 early in the third period. "Every game means everything to us now."
After Miller's score, Penn's next six possessions resulted in a fumble, a punt, a fumble, an interception, a punt and another pick.
"We had a chance to sort of put it out even further, make it a three-score game," said Ray Priore, Penn's coach, Bagnoli's longtime assistant and still his South Jersey neighbor. "We failed. We had some miscues at key times. But we'll be back."