Football 2017: Harvard 45, Brown 28
Brown had just scored a safety against Harvard at the Stadium on Saturday and the Bruins were starting a drive at their 29-yard line when your correspondent scribbled in his notebook: NO INTS. Meaning, through almost five quarters of play in the 2017 season, the Crimson defense had yet to snatch an opponent’s pass. Boy, Harvard could use a turnover now. Your correspondent looked up just in time to see Brown quarterback Nick Duncan drop back, scan the field and make his toss—and Harvard defensive back Tanner Lee ’18 cut in front of the Brown receiver, snag the ball at the 39 and run it all the way into the end zone. When Jake McIntyre ’20 added the extra point, the score was Harvard 14, Brown 2.
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There was plenty of football still to play, but Lee’s play galvanized the Crimson. Eventually the lead built to 45-9 and Harvard cruised to a 45-28 victory in its home opener. The win, which broke a three-game losing streak dating back to last year’s Penn game, gave the Crimson a 1-1 overall record and a 1-0 mark in the Ivy League. Brown dropped to 1-1 and 0-1 in the conference.
(By the way, it doesn’t usually work out like this, scribbling something that magically seems to prompt an immediate result. Otherwise, there’d be a collection of notes reading NO POWERBALL JACKPOT, NO WEIGHT LOSS, and NO DATE WITH NICOLE KIDMAN.)
As Harvard coach Tim Murphy noted in his postgame media conference, the game ball was earmarked for Ben Abercrombie ’21, the Crimson defensive back who was injured making a tackle the previous week against Rhode Island. Abercrombie underwent surgery on his neck and remains in Rhode Island Hospital. Before the game, the scoreboard showed a video that included heartfelt greetings to Abercrombie from members of Harvard men’s and women’s athletic teams; it can be viewed on gocrimson.com and on YouTube. The hashtag #standupforben has been created. On their helmets this season the Crimson players will wear decals reading “BA.” Ben Abercrombie will be a key member of the 2017 Harvard football team. Said Lee, like Abercrombie an Alabama product, in the media conference: “The season’s now about winning games but also for a lot of us about putting a championship ring on Ben’s finger.”
The game began with a stunner. Starting at quarterback for the Crimson was not the expected choice, Joe Viviano ’17 (’18), nor his accustomed backup, Tom Stewart ’19, but Jake Smith ’21—the first Crimson freshman to start at the position since 2001, when Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 got the call. As Murphy explained afterward, “The bottom line is that Jake had performed the best as a quarterback in practice over the last two weeks.” Pointing to his team’s sluggish offense in the latter part of last season and in this year’s 17-10 opening game loss at Rhode Island, Murphy said, “We needed a jolt.” On his opening drive, Smith—a product of Ithaca (Michigan) High and Exeter—almost had a pass picked off by Brown’s Isaiah Thompkins. But on Harvard’s second offensive series, the coach’s choice was vindicated when Smith nimbly led the Crimson 62 yards in five plays, the last two a 31-yard toss to wideout Adam Scott ’19 and a 16-yard blast by running back Charlie Booker III ’19 for a touchdown. McIntyre booted the extra point. Harvard 7, Brown 0.
Thereafter, though, effective punting by Brown’s Ryan Kopec kept the Crimson pinned deep. Smith was sacked thrice—the final time by the Bruins’ Richard Jarvis in the end zone. Harvard 7, Brown 2. Fifty-six seconds later, with 2:10 left in the first quarter, came Lee’s scintillating interception and runback for a touchdown. (The crowd at the Stadium had thus witnessed a football rarity: a team not capitalizing with either a touchdown or a field goal after registering a safety.)
Throughout his career, Murphy has been renowned for “taking the temperature of a game” and making changes accordingly. With 9:31 left in the second quarter the thermometer dictated another quarterback switch—back to Viviano. “Based on the first couple of series, I felt like Joe would give us the best opportunity to maximize our chances of winning this game,” said Murphy. The place where Viviano had to begin was hardly propitious: the Harvard two-yard line. In nine plays Viviano took the Crimson 98 yards, the big plays being tosses of 31 and 27 yards, respectively, to wideouts Henry Taylor ’19 and Scott. The capper came when running back Lavance Northington ’20, working from the wildcat formation, took a direct snap and ran six yards for a score. McIntyre kicked the extra point. Harvard 21, Brown 2. (And this, my friends, is why Tim Murphy gets the big bucks.)
During the offensive ups and downs of the first half, the defense, led by captain/linebacker Luke Hutton ’18, was throttling, limiting Brown to 2.2 yards per play. And opportunistic: After a fumble by Booker, linebacker Joey Goodman ’20 got the ball right back with a spectacular diving interception.
In the third quarter the Crimson put the game away with a 17-point fusillade. On the opening series Viviano connected with wideout Justice Shelton-Mosley ’19 for 37 yards. On the next play, from the Brown 27, Booker performed one of his patented bounces to the outside and barreled all the way to the end zone. McIntyre kicked. Harvard 28, Brown 2. Getting the ball back, the Crimson reached as far as the Brown 10 but bogged down, whereupon McIntyre kicked a 28-yard field goal. Harvard 31, Brown 2.
On the third play of the following series, Duncan was picked off by Crimson linebacker Charlie Walker ’19 who returned the ball 20 yards to the Brown 18. (You wanted INTS? You got INTS!) Four plays later Aaron Shampklin ’21 cut back for an eight-yard touchdown run. McIntyre did his thing. Harvard 38, Brown 2.
Viviano’s day was done; he had completed 11 of 13 passes for 150 yards. Smith was reinserted, and for the rest of the game he mostly handed off, and mostly to Noah Reimers ’19, who gained 65 yards on 10 carries. In the fourth quarter Smith engineered the final touchdown drive, a 50-yarder that culminated in a five-yard toss to tight end and fellow Exeter product Cecil Williams ’19—Smith’s first touchdown pass and Williams’s first touchdown catch. Smith finished five of seven passing, for 72 yards. Beginning late in the third quarter the Crimson defense also was turned over to the subs. Bruins backup quarterback T.J. Linta, taking advantage of relaxed Harvard coverage, racked up four touchdown drives that made the score semi-respectable.
Tidbits: The win was Harvard’s seventeenth consecutive victory in a home opener….Murphy is now 19-5 in Ivy League openers….Lee’s interception return for a touchdown was the first since Connor Sheehan ’15 took one 90 yards to the house in the 24-17 victory over Yale on November 22, 2014.
Columbia 35, Georgetown 14
Penn 65, Lehigh 47
Dartmouth 27, Holy Cross 26
Princeton 38, Lafayette 17
Yale 49, Cornell 24
Coming up: Next Saturday Harvard travels to RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., to take on Georgetown. Kickoff: 2 p.m. The game will be televised on the Patriot League Network and broadcast on WRCA 1330 AM, 106.1 FM and 94.5 FM-HD2, and on WHRB FM 95.3. The Hoyas, who are members of the Patriot League, are 1-2. The Crimson has won all three games played between the schools, including a 31-17 victory last year at Cambridge.
The score by quarters