NEW BRITAIN - It turns out, Central Connecticut State head football coach Pete Rossomando had every reason to be nervous heading Saturday night’s game against Columbia.
Against an opportunistic opponent, the head coach knew his team had to play a clean football game. It certainly didn’t matter that the Lions were playing in their season opener and the Blue Devils were in Week 3.
CCSU played exactly the opposite.
Beset by penalties and mistakes throughout, CCSU was never to get into a rhythm and fell to Columbia 41-24 at Arute Field in its first matchup against an FCS opponent this season.
The Blue Devils (1-2) played against FBS school Ball State (a 42-6 loss) and Division II Lincoln (PA) (a 55-0 win) over the first two weeks.
“[Columbia] didn’t make mistakes and when they did, it didn’t cost them,” Rossomando said.
“We made mistakes on our end and I bet you we gave them 20 points inside our own 20-yard line and we lost by 17, so that tells you [what you need to know].”
The Lions (1-0) finished with 17 points off three turnovers - all fumbles.
Less than four minutes into the opening quarter, Columbia defensive lineman Mike Hinton stripped sacked CCSU quarterback Jacob Dolegala, allowing Sean White to recover the ball on the Blue Devils’ 2-yard line.
Lions second-string quarterback Ty Lenhart carried the ball across the goal line on the next play to put his team up 7-0.
It was the first of two rushing touchdowns for the signal caller. He scored from a yard out with 6:02 remaining in the third quarter, also set up by a fumble, after Tajik Bagley muffed a punt to give possession back to Columbia. It made the score 27-14 and put the game out of reach.
Lenhart was one of three quarterbacks the Lions used. Starter Josh Bean completed 11-of-19 passes for 128 yards, including a 19-yard score to Ronald Smith in the final minute of the first quarter in his first career start. Bean later left with a concussion.
Dillon Davis then came in. The sophomore completed 5-of-8 passes for 46 yards and a touchdown, which went to Lynnard Rose in the fourth quarter.
Overall, it was a mixed day for the Blue Devils safety. On one hand, Bagley had two of the three fumbles that led to those 17 points for the Lions. On the other, he provided seven of CCSU’s points when the offense was struggling, returning a punt 82 yards for the touchdown.
“I thought we played horrendous on special teams,” Rossomando said. “I thought we punted fairly well, but didn’t cover them very well. I thought we kicked pretty well, but didn’t cover them very well. We ran into their kicker and that didn’t cost us anything, but those are things we can’t do. It’s a focus thing.”
The Blue Devils’ offense had trouble at times in that aspect as well.
Despite getting the fourth-career 300-yard passing game from Dolegala, the unit had trouble moving the ball on a consistent basis. CCSU was just 3-of-12 on third down and gave up three sacks.
Dolegala completed 28-of-43 passes for 320 yards and a touchdown - a 9-yarder to Tyshaun James with 7:15 left in second quarter. But overthrows and dropped passes hampered drives, as did a lack of a running game.
Enyce Walker was the Blue Devils’ leading rusher with 37 yards on four carries. Aaron Dawson scored the team’s only touchdown on the ground in the final minute of the game to bring the score to its final outcome.
“[Columbia] wasn’t doing anything in particular to throw us off,” Dolegala said. “Upfront, we didn’t get the blocks we needed. Drew [Jean-Guillaume] ran hard, [Enyce] ran hard, I don’t know [why we played that way]. I honestly don’t. It just came down to execution and we just didn’t play our best. I need to locate the ball better.”
CCSU now finds itself in a similar situation to the one it was in last year when facing a bleak season at 0-3, when on an eight-game winning streak to make the FCS playoffs. The Blue Devils are hoping that starts next week at Fordham.
“We have to hold each other more accountable during practice and not have those little mental mistakes that we have from time to time,” CCSU defensive lineman Chris Tinkham said. “We need to be on each other as a group to reach that goal so hopefully we can flip the switch Week 4.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org