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Columbia holds on to beat Yale 26-22

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- After ending a nine-game losing streak to Yale with a last-minute win Saturday, Columbia quarterback Sean Brackett said his team wasn't focused on past history.

Which is just as well, since Columbia faced a whole new situation as Yale was forced into using its star tailback at quarterback in the Lions' 26-22 win.

But after watching Yale tailback Tyler Varga add another level to the meaning "all-purpose" with a career-high 220 yards rushing, Columbia pounced on his late fumble and drove for the winning touchdown.

Columbia also ended a five-game losing streak this season with the win at Lawrence A. Wein Stadium.

"We're not really about history," Brackett said after completing 33 of 47 passes for 328 yards, including the winning two-yard touchdown pass to Marcorus Garrett with 45 seconds remaining.

"We're just focused on what we need to do. Doesn't matter, past games, past years. Just be in the moment and focus on what we need to execute."

With their quarterbacks depleted because of injuries, Yale (2-5, 1-3 Ivy League) pushed Varga, the Ivy League's leader in all-purpose yardage, into that position.

Starting quarterback Eric Williams was lost early in last week's win over Penn and fill-ins Derek Russell and Logan Scott were later injured in the game and their status was up in the air this week. Yale coach Tony Reno said the decision was made shortly before the game, though Varga took snaps at the position in practice.

The sophomore transfer from Western Ontario rushed for a career-high 220 yards and scored three touchdowns, while completing one of his four passing attempts for 18 yards.

But he fumbled with 2:05 left. Ryan Murphy recovered for Columbia and Brackett led the Lions on the game-winning drive. Yale coach Tony Reno argued that Varga was down by contact, but the officials stuck by the ruling.

"No team expected what has happened to us, but Coach has been telling us all season to expect the unexpected," Varga said. "We all were prepared for any scenario. What happened happened. You can't sit there and complain."

Columbia (2-6, 1-4) presented a challenge, along with Yale's creative quarterbacking needs, rallying from a 14-5 deficit in the second half to take a 19-14 lead.

Brackett capped a nine-play, 48-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run with 11:38 left in the game to give Columbia its first lead since the first quarter.

Varga gave Yale a 20-19 lead by rushing for most of the Bulldogs' 75 yards on a drive he punctuated with a 25-yard touchdown run with 7:30 left in the game. Mordecai Cargill's two-point conversion run gave the Bulldogs a 22-19 lead.

But Varga's exploits were undermined by his late fumble.

With Varga seemingly ready to run out the clock on the Lions, Columbia linebacker Mike Waller stripped him of the ball and Ryan Murphy recovered to give Columbia the ball at its 41-yard-line with 2:05 left.

"That's what we needed," Murphy said. "If Mike Waller doesn't make that strip, it would have been a different ballgame."

Columbia wide receiver Connor Nelligan caught three straight passes for 52 yards on the final drive to move the Lions to the Bulldogs' 3-yard line.

Brackett then hit Garrett for the 2-yard touchdown in the left side of the end zone for a 26-22 lead with 45 seconds left.

"It's one of our main goal line plays," Brackett said. "Easy read for me. Linebacker stayed inside."

Yale then used receiver Henry Furman, who has some quarterback experience, for just the second series of the game. He drove the Bulldogs to the Yale 42 before running out of time.

Down 14-5, Columbia had gotten back in the game with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Brackett to Jake Wanamaker in the right corner of the end zone on third-and-4 with 1:51 left in the third quarter. That brought Columbia to within 14-12.

Despite the injuries to their quarterbacks, Yale still managed to thrive with Varga running wild.

His touchdown runs of 28 and 3 yards gave the Bulldogs a 14-5 lead they carried late into the third quarter.

"I'm glad I don't have to see '30' for another year," Columbia coach Pete Mangurian said, referring to Varga's number. "Man, he's a good football player."

Notes: Nelligan had 11 catches for 138 yards, passing the 100-yard mark in receiving yards for the second time this season. ... It was the first time Varga took direct snaps in his career. ... Varga's 220 yards set a record for a quarterback rushing at Yale. The previous mark was Nick Crawford's 204 in 1991.
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