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Lions Claim 41-24 Season Opening Victory at Central Connecticut State

NEW BRITAIN, Conn.—Columbia recovered three fumbles, limited its opponents to 45 yards rushing and used a three-quarterback system to register a 41-24 football victory over Central Connecticut State in its season opener Saturday at Arute Field. Host Central Connecticut State (1-2) won the Northeast Conference championship, finished 8-4 in 2017 and was picked as the preseason favorite to win the NEC in 2018. The win gave Columbia (1-0) a school-record fifth straight non-conference win since it joined the Ivy League in 1956. The Lions also won their third consecutive game and claimed their second straight season opener in as many years. "We knew it was going to hard opener," Columbia Patricia and Shepard Alexander Head Coach of Football Al Bagnoli said. "Week one is so unpredictable on how your players are going play. The game speed is different, cardio, game action is different, the pressures. Overall, we played hard and executed in some areas really well, like kicking game. At the same, we were weren't as consistent as I'd like us to be in some areas. Unfortunately we sustained some issues on the medical front which really concerns me. We beat a really good team that is in week three, that has some good athletes. I think they'll have a good year as NEC champions. We did it on the road, which is awesome. But now we've got to rally and everyone has to raise their game up a bit to make up for the losses of some of these guys." It was a total team effort for Columbia. Three Columbia quarterbacks—sophomore starter Josh Bean, sophomore Dillon Davis and first-year Ty Lenhart—combined to throw for 186 yards, pass for two touchdowns and no interceptions and complete 15 of 27 passes. Lenhart also rushed for two touchdowns. First-year running back Dante Miller added an 83-yard touchdown run, the longest run in school history for a first-year. Columbia's defense held Central Connecticut to 45 yards rushing on 24 carries (1.9 per carry), limited the Blue Devils to 3-12 on third downs, totaled 7.0 tackles for loss and three sacks. Columbia's special teams units recovered two fumbles on punt returns, both by sophomore Cameren Carter, recovered an on-side kick and senior kickoff specialist Chris Alleynefinished the day with 11 points (5-5 on PATs and two field goals). Following a closely played first half, Columbia took control of the game with two fumble recoveries off punts in the third quarter. After holding a slim 17-14 halftime lead, Columbia sophomore Cameren Carter recovered a punt which bounced off a CCSU player and set up Columbia at the CCSU 12-yard line. The play resulted in a 36-yard field goal by Alleyne which put Columbia up 20-14. Carter recovered another punt on CCSU's three-yard line after the ball fell through receiver Tajik Bagley's hands. On the second play of Columbia's drive, Lenhart scored on a one-yard run up the middle. The score gave the Lions a 27-14 lead with 6:02 to play in the third quarter. Central Connecticut State answered with a 21-yard Francis Cole field goal following an 11-play, 71-yard drive to cut Columbia's lead to 27-17 before the start of the fourth quarter. But Davis entered the game as quarterback for Columbia and led the Lions on a six play, 51-yard drive that ended in a two-yard shuttle pass to junior Lynnard Rose. The drive gave Columbia a 34-17 lead and featured a 47-yard pass play from Davis to sophomore wide receiver Darion Acohido. Columbia first-year running back Dante Miller made it 41-17 Lions when he took a handoff and raced around the left end for an 83-yard touchdown run. The 83-yard touchdown run ranks as the sixth longest rushing touchdown and sixth longest run in Columbia football history. The game was a back-and-forth affair through the first half. Columbia took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when first-year quarterback Ty Lenhart scored on a two-yard run after taking a direct snap from center. The score was set up by senior defensive lineman Mike Hinton who hit CCSU quarterback Jacob Dolegala and jarred the ball loose. Senior linebacker Sean White fell on the ball at the CCSU two-yard line. Central Connecticut State answered with a touchdown of its own when Tajik Bagley received a punt, broke two tackles and rambled 82 yards down the right side for a touchdown with 4:45 left in the first quarter. With 42 seconds left in the first quarter, Columbia took the lead back 14-7 when Bean found junior Ronald Smith open over the middle for a 19-yard touchdown pass. Columbia scored after a nine-play, 61-yard drive that went almost four minutes and featured a 32-yard kickoff return by sophomore Will Allen, a 16-yard pass from Bean to junior Lynnard Rose and a 10-yard run by Miller. A 42-yard gain pass to Jose Garcia setup a nine-yard touchdown pass from Dolegala to Tyshaun James to tie the score at 14-14 with 7:15 left in the second quarter. But Columbia's Alleyne kicked a career-long 44-yard field goal to give Columbia a 17-14 halftime lead. The field goal was setup by a false start penalty by CCSU and a 45-yard pass from Bean to junior Josh Wainwright. Bagnoli is a 1975 Central Connecticut State graduate who played three years for the Blue Devils. He faced his alma mater for the first time as a head coach. Columbia (1-0) is back in action on Saturday, Sept. 23 at Georgetown. Kickoff in Washington D.C. is 2 p.m. ET.

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