FILE PHOTO: KARLA LEYJA/THE HOYA Junior running back Alex Valles is the team’s leading rusher. He has 191 rushing yards this season and has a yards per carry average of 7.1.
Junior running back Alex Valles is the team’s leading rusher. He has 191 rushing yards this season and has a yards per carry average of 7.1.

Off to its best start since the 2012 season, the Georgetown football team (2-0) is set to take on the Columbia Lions (0-1) in its Homecoming Weekend matchup this Saturday.

Fresh off a bye week, the Hoyas are looking to keep their strong early season momentum rolling against a Lions football program that has been steeped in futility for many years now.

On Saturday, the two teams will play the second game of a 10-year series, competing for the Lou Little Trophy. The trophy is named after College Football Hall of Fame Coach Lou Little — former head coach at both Georgetown and Columbia. Little coached at Georgetown for six seasons, and his .759 winning percentage remains the highest among Georgetown head coaches who have coached more than 20 games on the Hilltop.

Last year, Columbia finally ended a 24-game losing streak by defeating Wagner University 26-3 at home. Prior to that, Columbia had endured two straight winless seasons.  Al Bagnoli, who is entering his second year as the Lions’ head coach, is leading Columbia through this rebuilding period.

Bagnoli came to Columbia after a successful 23-year tenure at the University of Pennsylvania, where he had a 148-80 overall record, including a 112-49 record in the Ivy League. Bagnoli is also the only coach in Ivy League history to win back-to-back undefeated Ivy League titles, accomplishing this feat three separate times.

“I’ve known Coach Bagnoli since I was a pup. Nothing but respect for the staff. You look at his record at Penn and all the Ivy League championships, with what he’s done over the years, it’s tremendous,” Georgetown Head Coach Rob Sgarlata said.

The Lions’ season began last Saturday with a low-scoring 13-9 loss to Saint Francis University (1-2). Saint Francis University defeated Georgetown last season 48-20. The Lions almost capped off a comeback victory when senior quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg — a transfer from the University of Florida — found senior wide receiver Cameron Dunn for a three-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in the game. However, Columbia’s late push fell short when Saint Francis recovered the ensuing onside kick and closed out the game

Mornhinweg, who is in his second year as the team’s starting quarterback, leads the Lions’ offensive efforts. Mornhinweg can use his legs as well as his arm, rushing 84 times for 413 yards last season, along with three rushing touchdowns.

Senior wide receivers Cameron Dunn and Scooter Hollis add experience to Columbia’s receivers. Hollis was the leading pass-catcher with 51 catches for 515 yards and one touchdown, while Dunn was a distant third with 21 catches for 206 yards.

“Columbia’s offense, they’re experienced, they’ve got a solid O-line that’s been around for a while. Quarterback’s been around the system. They’re good, we got to be on our best game,” senior defensive lineman Hunter Kiselick said.

On defense, the Lions will rely heavily on senior linebackers Christian Conway and Gianmarco Rea. Last season, Conway tallied 57 total tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Last season, the Lions’ defense allowed 19.8 points per game to opponents.

The Hoyas’ offense, guided by senior quarterback Tim Barnes, is looking to keep things rolling, after engineering a game-winning drive against Marist two weeks ago. The offense finished the Marist game with 358 total yards on offense, including 150 yards on the ground.

“The O-line’s been doing a great job making plays, getting a good push. They’re making my job a whole lot easier,” junior running back Alex Valles, who had 15 carries for 93 yards against Marist, said.

However, the Hoyas were just 5-of-20 on third down, something that will have to change as the season progresses, starting Saturday against Columbia. Barnes acknowledged the need to convert on more third downs to keep drives alive.

Another key for Georgetown will be getting off to a better start. Georgetown punted on its first two possessions, and only scored two field goals out of eight possessions in the first half.

“We just need to come out a little faster,” Sgarlata said, “We just need to execute and perform better in the first couple series, on both sides of the ball.”

Such early season success has been rare for this Georgetown team in recent memory, but the Blue and Gray are keeping level heads and staying focused on the job at hand.

“We definitely got to keep somewhat of a tunnel vision. Got to keep our eyes on the prize, just keep going forward. 2-0 doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win the rest of them and keep it up,” Kiselick said.

Sgarlata feels his team is taking its success in stride so far, mainly due to the leadership that the senior class has provided to the team.

“Senior leadership has been really good because even coming off of Marist during the bye week the kids knew we didn’t play as well as we should have,” Sgarlata said. “The expectation to win and be successful is important, and those guys knew when we watched film on Sunday that we played well enough to win, but they know they didn’t play to the best of their potential.”

Saturday is sure to bring one of the biggest — if not the biggest — crowds of the season for a Georgetown football game, and the players are eager to put on the pads and keep their positive momentum.

“All of our families are here. It’s playing in front of one of the biggest crowds we’ll probably see all season so it’s pretty important to us,” Valles said.

Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Cooper Field.

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